Non-marital parenting could equal child abuse in WI

Add this one to the long-growing “what the eff” archives of 2012.

A bill proposed by Wisconsin state Senator Bill Grothman would require the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board to add “non-marital parenting” as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect. One of the bill’s provisions reads (emphasis added):

Section 1. 48.982 (2) (g) 2. of the statutes is amended to read: 48.982 (2) (g) 2. Promote statewide educational and public awareness  campaigns and materials for the purpose of developing public awareness of the  problems of child abuse and neglect. In promoting those campaigns and materials, the board shall emphasize nonmarital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.

Senator Grotham has a quite a history of lamenting that the institution of marriage is under attack. This bill would require the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board (CANPB) to emphasize non-marital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect in it’s programs and in the materials it disseminates to organizations that get grants from the CANPB.

Notably, the bill, despite being difficult to really decipher, seems to placing an emphasis on unmarried fathers and their potential role in child maltreatment and neglect. This message about fathers as both protectors and perpetrators is quite common and pervasive, even nationally. Groups like the National Fatherhood Initiative often talk about the various and sundry effects of “father absence” and the Department of Health and Human Services also has it’s own Fatherhood Initiative.

All of this emphasis on the importance of fathers in children’s lives is well and good, it would seem. But research studies are constantly and consistently complicating the idea that a heterosexual nuclear family unit is best for children. Legislation like the kind proposed by Senator Gothman makes queer families invisible, especially in places where queer couples cannot be legally recognized as a family unit.

Furthermore, we live in a country where child welfare programs are subject to deeply institutionalized racism and sexism: these programs don’t take into account the role of poverty in child maltreatment and child Protective Services (CPS) often inflicts harm on children by separating them needlessly from family – moreso in the case of black families and other families of color.

So, legislation like this is irresponsible and reactive, and clearly about protecting a regressive notion of the nuclear family to the potential detriment of the very children it purportedly aims to protect.

Join the Conversation

  • Adam

    Some days it feels that living in some of the states where these bills are being pushed should amount to child abuse if not a human rights violation

  • Adrienne

    If they want to promote fatherhood, shouldn’t they focus on the men? Like promoting what it means to be a good father?
    Of course if we were to promote this, it would be awesome.

    • Adrienne

      And of course, if they promoted what it means to be a good father, it would suck. It would require marriage and traditional roles.

  • Teresa Valdez Klein

    While I find it deplorable to equate single parenting directly with child abuse – I know many terrific single parents – it’s impossible to ignore how the ugliness of divorce does indeed contribute to child abuse. I grew up in a chaotic post-divorce environment where both parents were incredibly self-absorbed and angry. I bore the brunt.

    Obviously, this experience was more about bad parenting than it was about divorce, but I think special attention needs to be paid to children whose parents are divorcing to make sure that their needs are really and truly being taken into account by the courts and their parents.

  • Becky

    My fiance was raised by a single parent: even when his father was still alive he was mentally absent. His mother worked her butt off for years and managed to raise three kids in a great school district. My fiance got a great education and is now an attorney – not to mention a wonderful human being. I don’t see any child abuse there – just a really hard working and loving mother who gave her kids everything she could.

    In regards to divorce: my mother once apologized for making our home a “broken home,” meaning, divorcing her first husband. I flat out told her she didn’t creak our home when she got a divorce – she fixed it! Child abuse is making a kid stay in a bad situation, not getting a divorce from a crappy human being. (To paraphrase a Ralph Wiggum quote: “And when my mother told me I didn’t have to live with that horrible human being any more, that was the happiest day of me life!” :) )

  • Robin

    The Senator is actually Glenn Grothman. Not that I want to waste much effort on him, but I do want this article to show up on searches for him.
    He is a black mark on the rather nice town I grew up in (West Bend, Wisconsin).