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.