|Tacoma, WA Thursday, March 5, 2009|
BILL HARRINGTON Last updated: March 4th, 2009 11:50 PM (PST)President Barack Obama’s clarion call to reduce our nation’s tragic number of high school dropouts is both inspiring and compelling.
We have waited for years to have a president really committed to improving educational outcomes in America.
Success is desperately needed for us as individual citizens and as a society. But accomplishing this goal will require a major contribution from, and a more direct appeal to, our male population – the fathers of American children.
For married fathers, the appeal must be to become more engaged in the day-to-day lives of their children. Dads must know the names of their children’s teachers, better understand the classes they children are attending, and be there for parent-teacher conferences, etc.
You might wonder, why the big deal? The answer is that our national call to reduce dropouts is doomed to failure unless fathers are more involved in the lives of their children after divorce. This is the key factor in cutting the dropout rate.
Social science research shows that between 70 percent and 80 percent of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.
Fathers are 50 percent of the parents Obama called to action last week. But with a 50 percent divorce rate and so many children born to unwed, never-married parents (just under 30,000 per year in Washington), it is hard to reduce the dropout rate under our present conditions. Mothers and concerned citizens cannot reverse this trend alone.
With legal and social services rule changes designed to allow increased participation by separated fathers in their children’s lives, real and meaningful progress toward educational improvement could be realized. The numbers below help make the case.
A new report from Olympia – the Residential Time Summary Report from the administrator of the courts – shows that divorced fathers are fighting to stay involved with their children.
Statewide, 46 percent of children of divorce are spending a minimum of 35 percent of parenting time with their fathers. The number is 50 percent in Pierce County.
These numbers are 300 percent better than in 1987, when the state Parenting Act mandated more child-focused divorce outcomes. The act resulted in detailed plans that specified the rights of the parents’ rights and their schedules with their children.
This is measurable progress any way you count the numbers.
The superintendent of public instruction reports a startling 18,500 dropouts in grades 9-12 in the 2006-2007 school years. Our challenge to reduce dropouts is for everyone.
A 2008 report from the National Center for Fathering shows a dramatic improvement in fathers’ participation over time with a resulting increase in improved child outcomes.
The report studied fathers in October 1999 and May 2008. It looked at such things as visits to a child’s classroom, volunteering and reading to the child. All that is needed for more success is more attention and support for committed fathers. We need to give more separated fathers a green light and remove the roadblocks.
Locally, we can take three big steps:
• Urge the Legislature to pass Senate Bill 5342, sponsored by Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, which would encourage divorced parents to stay within the same community for the sake of shared parenting.
• Urge superior court judges and court commissioners to grant fathers’ requests for more parental involvement in parenting plans.
• Urge school board members to reach out to fathers and get them more involved in school events and activities.
The 23 local Daffodill princesses described in The News Tribune last March give us the final punch to this story. Of these wonderful and successful ladies, 20 of 23 came from homes with both a father and a mother. It’s a demonstration that fathers contribute to the success of their daughters as well as their sons.
Bill Harrington of Graham served on the U.S. Commission on Child and Family Welfare from 1994 to 1996. E-mail him at email@example.com
Originally published: March 4th, 2009 11:50 PM (PST)