Opinion: Too many youngsters with out fathers

A new report from State Auditor Shad White’s office puts some harsh numbers to one of Mississippi’s biggest problems: We have too many kids growing up without fathers.

“Studies show that fatherless children do not go as far in school, have more health problems, and are less financially secure as adults,” says the report, which cites a number of different sources for its information. “Other studies show fatherless boys are more likely to become men who enter the corrections system.

“Still more research shows fatherless girls are more likely to become teenage mothers. Both incarceration and teenage pregnancy are strongly associated with the high school dropout rate.”

White’s report says 250,000 Mississippi children live in a home without a father. Which is a very big deal for a state that keeps trying to pull more of its people upward. This is clearly one of the main reasons we keep getting dragged down.

Now, let’s stop for a moment to acknowledge that there are a lot of adults in Mississippi who grew up without a father and turned out quite well. For some, it was probably better that their father was not around.

Many of these children had the good fortune of living with a strong-willed, resilient mother. Or maybe a stepfather or another man stepped in — an uncle, a grandfather, a teacher, a coach — to help steer a child on the right path.

These success stories are a great thing — but the numbers say they are the exception to the rule. All too often, as White’s report makes clear, children without fathers become high school dropouts with a greater chance of going to prison. They are twice as likely as high school graduates to be unemployed. They are four times as likely to receive government assistance.

The report estimates that the higher prison rates plus various other government expenses costs Mississippi up to $700 million a year. Even a small decrease in the number of kids without a father in their life would accomplish two things — give a child a better chance of success and save taxpayers some money.

So how do we do this? White’s report has one good suggestion: “One program interrupting the cycle of fatherlessness is the Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps. Retired military service members teach this program for high school students. JROTC teaches military history, provides structure and discipline, and requires physical exercise.”

The report also noted that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has promoted policies to address the problem of absentee fathers, and has signed a bill to create a mentoring program for children from single-parent homes.

Another good idea is aggressively seeking child-support payments from absentee parents.

White’s report tends to focus on the dollar cost of homes without fathers. His job is to help keep track of the state’s money. But the real cost is in human terms. How many children are left behind, consigned to a life of poverty, misery or perhaps prison? Reducing that number would be a fine achievement indeed.

— Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise Journal

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