Parenthood is the source of our citizens and the foundation of our economy. Parents who raise a productive citizen contribute $1.4 million to our economy. Parents who abuse and/or neglect a child who becomes a criminal or welfare dependent cost our economy $2.8 million.
If parenthood is so important to all of us, why don’t we value it by having standards for parenthood as we do for any of our activities that affect other people: childcare workers, teachers, plumbers, electricians, physicians, lawyers, motor vehicle drivers, etc.? Parents affect other people: their children and even more importantly their newborn babies. We have standards for adopting children as does the Humane Society for adopting pets.
In the United States anyone who conceives a child is automatically awarded full parental rights (legal and physical custody of a child) regardless of their ability to care for and raise that child. A newborn baby is regarded as the personal property of the genetic mother and father, if known. Our society pretends that all parents are competent until it is proved in court that they have seriously damaged their children by abuse and/or neglect.
As a result, the United States has a “cradle to prison/welfare dependency pipeline” as fully described by the Children’s Defense Fund:
- We are at the top of the list of developed nations in child abuse and neglect and the bottom in educational achievement.
- Three million referrals are made to child protective services every year.
- Five children die every day from abuse.
- One-third of our children and youth are failing in some aspect of their lives.
This directly affects all of us in our taxes and the safety of our neighborhoods and communities. Our government is forced to become involved in struggling families and their adult offspring at the cost of 23% of state and 45% of county expenditures that flow from our federal income and state taxes.
Why do we permit babies to have three strikes against them at birth and endanger our nation’s future? The most obvious reason is that we act as if we do not know that parents have the power to enhance or detract from our nation’s prosperity.
We leave the fate of our children with parents who are unwilling or unable to raise them to separate professions and social services that try to help these struggling families but cannot deal with the obvious causes of intergenerational poverty, crime and welfare dependency. What’s more, these unconnected, crisis-recoil responses to problems cannot apply what we know really works to prevent them in the first place and to help families in crises. If this fragmented approach was applied to public health, we would immunize only a fraction of our population and then treat only a fraction of the individuals who became infected. The result would be pandemics of diseases as we now see with our educational failures and endemic crime and welfare dependency.
We no longer can afford to ignore the causes of our intergenerational poverty, crime and welfare dependency. United Nations statistician Howard Friedman has carefully documented the declining international status of the United States in his book The Measure of a Nation: How to Regain America's Competitive Edge and Boost Our Global Standing. He bases this on the following facts:
- Americans have the lowest life expectancy among all competitor nations.
- Americans are at least two times more likely to be murdered and four times more likely to be incarcerated than any other competitor country.
- The United States shows the greatest disparity between rich and poor among all competitor nations.
While our nation focuses on current unemployment, the soaring national debt and terrorism, the ailments that infect our society are being ignored. Especially dangerous is the decline in thriving families that threatens the prosperity and security of our nation. This decline in family wellbeing deprives us of competent parents who are able to develop the characters and competence of our young people…our nation’s greatest natural resource.
At some point in their lives, half of all children born in the United States will have lived in one-parent homes, mostly without fathers. Half of them will live in poverty for a time and will continue the cycle of family disadvantage. Without concerted action, every American taxpayer will continue to pay for the consequences.
For humanitarian and financial reasons - and for our nation's prosperity - we must remove government from family lives by preventing the formation of, and reducing the number of, struggling families in the United States.
We can do this by ensuring that every newborn baby has an opportunity to succeed in life by limiting the custody of newborn babies to persons who are not under the custody of others themselves. This can be done through a Parenthood Pledge that expands the birth certificate to become a parenthood certificate for the parent(s) of that child. When a girl or woman under the custody of others becomes pregnant, Parenthood Planning Counseling would be activated to ensure that a willing and qualified person(s) co-signs the Parenthood Pledge and has custody of the baby at birth. If there is no willing, qualified person(s), a plan would be made for adoption at birth.
Only by fulfilling the human and civil right of all newborn babies to have competent parents will the United States ensure its prosperity.
Dr. Jack Westman develops public policies to give every child the chance to become a productive citizen. During decades as a psychiatrist and professor, he has maintained a focus on strengthening families. Currently, he is a family lobbyist and author of Parent Power: The Key to America’s Prosperity. www.jackwestman.com and www.americasparentpower.com.