Houston Graduate School of Theology

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Focusing on Families

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by Herbert S. Fain Jr, JD, DMin, HGST Professor of Legal and Social Ethics  As one examines the economy, our legal system, and other factors affecting parenting and the American family, it is apparent that class, ethnicity, education, employment status, and the law are all factors that impact a parent’s involvement in their children’s lives. It has been consistently argued by scholars, like W.E.B. DuBois, that families headed by African-American females were the result of racial oppression and poverty, not the cause. The U.S. Census for the year 2000 revealed that 75.2% of white children resided in two-parent homes, whereas only 33.3% of black families lived with both parents. A 2009 survey reported similar findings, only 37% of African American children lived with two parents. Therefore, a large number of minority children are raised by single parents or grandparents. Unfortunately, these statistics may correlate with the low rates of education and the elevated number of the unemployed and incarcerated among the poor.

When a parent chooses to be involved in his children’s upbringing, despite socio-economical obstacles, children generally have a higher self-concept. Experts agree that, in addition to parental love and caring, psychologically, children need support and encouragement. Although there are exceptions, there is a greater likelihood that children who lack a relationship with their parents will become drinkers, smokers, and serious drug users. Some believe puberty is when children need their parents and caring adults the most.

Some believe courts have implemented laws that deteriorate parental rights by creating barriers to parental identification, visitation, child support, etc. Thus, some believe parental rights have had interference. The courts commonly use the best interest of the child test, which does not factor in all of the socio-economic obstacles, which will ultimately have an important effect on the child’s upbringing. Thus, courts (or “the system”) may be perceived by some critics as obstructionist due to innate and societal inequities that shortchange some low income fathers.

In conclusion, as we look at the problems confronting families, most agree that courts, churches, and the other institutions can give greater support to our families. Parenting classes and educational, social, and recreational opportunities have all helped the family. Despite economic factors, we can have greater success with our families and reverse this trend.

Resource: Herbert Fain, Co-author, “Socio-Economic Status and Legal Factors Affecting African American Fathers,” Buffalo Journal of Gender, Law & Social Policy, Vol. XXI, 1-44 (2012-2013).