Amid the many inspiring stories of terrific dads and potential "Father of the Year" candidates celebrated in the media this past Father's Day were a few not-so-inspiring contenders for the "Worst Father of the Year" title. Just days ago news outlets reported that the state of Tennessee is struggling to collect child support on behalf of 78 children fathered by three men -- yes, three men (and 46 women). Authorities are at a loss because although the men are incapable of supporting the children and have done repeated jail time for failure to pay child support, nothing can be done to prevent the men from having more children, and they have given no indication that they plan to stop fathering children they cannot support.
But perhaps the only thing more troubling than the story of these men is the fact that they are not actually strong candidates for "Worst Father of the Year," not even close. They may have created children and abandoned them, but at least they didn't physically harm them. A better contender for the title might be the dad who, along with his wife, decided to pimp out his 14-year-old daughter to a 60-something man in exchange for the man covering the couple's car payments. Then, of course, there is the woman who filmed herself raping her 10-month-old because her boyfriend asked her to, a definite contender for both the "Worst Mother of the Year" title and "Worst Human Being Ever" title. My point with these horror stories? Despite a new, terrible story emerging each and every day about people harming children (other people's and their own), saying that not every person should be allowed the privilege of being a parent remains one of the most controversial things anyone can say, despite the fact that it is 100-percent true. (Click here to see a list of the worst celebrity parents.)
Before the ACLU and every pro-life group in America team up to start a petition lambasting me, no, I am not advocating some mass sterilization program. But I am here to raise a question. If a doctor is found to have committed multiple errors or acts of negligence that harm patients, he eventually loses his license to practice medicine. If a police officer is found to have harmed too many suspects without cause, she loses her badge. If a teacher is caught sexually abusing a child, he can never teach children again. So why is it that as law currently stands, there is nothing to stop that same teacher from having his own children with a spouse or partner after serving his time (which, as I have written before, is likely to only be a few years)? Similarly, if a man or woman is convicted of severely injuring one of his or her children, even an injury that results in death, currently nothing can be done to monitor in any way this person's treatment of future children that he or she may have after being released from prison. Does that make sense to you? It certainly doesn't make sense to me.
It made even less sense to me when I came across the case of Steven Moland, who was arrested just months ago for abusing two babies, including his own child. Eight years ago Moland pled no contest to fracturing his other baby's skull and causing a brain injury. After serving less than five years in prison, he was released, although thanks to these latest charges, it looks like he may soon be headed back there. So why is it that law enforcement seems incapable of protecting children from offenders like Moland, who, despite proving themselves to be dangerous parents, are not held accountable for any future parenting choices they may make?
Well, one reason is because despite years of efforts, the federal government has yet to make any significant headway on establishing a national child-abuse registry. According to Teresa Huizar, Executive Director of the child-abuse-prevention group National Children's Alliance, the seemingly never-ending American battle over states' rights is at least partially to blame: "What's called 'sexual assault' in one [state] could be called 'indecency with a child' elsewhere, and that difference in wording makes it tough to compare numbers nationally." This means that not only is it tough to create a federal registry that accurately catalogs abusive parents and their crimes, but it also makes it tough to compare which states are doing the best and worst jobs at addressing the issue of child abuse, and subsequently which strategies work best.
Coming up with agreed-upon federal standards for reporting crimes against children is not difficult to do, she stressed. "It's not something that's terribly costly but simply takes the political will to do." She added, "States are naturally resistant to being told what to do," noting that "some elements of certain political parties can take states' rights to extremes." Huizar continued, "I understand states' rights, but some things are for the greater good."
Huizar explained that some of the ideas I ran past her, such as tying abuse sentencing and parole guidelines (particularly in plea bargains) to an offender's willingness to adhere to supervision in future parenting choices, are difficult to implement because of the many moving parts involved. For instance, she explained that if someone were convicted of severely abusing his own child and subsequently agreed not to have any children in a certain timeframe as a part of his parole (similar to a pedophile who agrees to chemical castration), that abusive parent could simply end up being a danger to his nieces or nephews unless the core issues regarding his temperament and behaviors were addressed.
She is hopeful, however, that one possible solution, the national child-abuse registry, finally may not be that far from becoming a reality. Senators John Kerry and Susan Collins are sponsoring the Protect Our Kids Act. The bill (S.B. 1984) would establish a national commission on child-abuse fatalities and thereby lay the foundation for establishing a child-abuse registry and other measures to establish a proactive national strategy for combating child abuse.
When asked why he feels so strongly about passing this bill, Senator Kerry offered, "Everyone says that kids are the future, but it would shock most Americans to learn that the United States ranks highest in child-abuse fatalities of any industrialized nation." He continued: "I was a prosecutor. I saw men and women in their 30s abusing their kids the way they were abused themselves. The cycle repeats itself, and I kept thinking, "Then why can't we deal with this before the cycle plays out for another generation?" He concluded by appealing to anyone who actually cares about protecting children from violent caregivers to contact his or her representative and urge them to support this bill. Emphasizing that it already has bipartisan support, he stressed that it needs more: "Our bill is currently at the HELP Committee, but to move it forward and fight for these kids, we need to continue to build the level of cosponsors for this bipartisan legislation. I'd encourage anyone who wants to get involved to reach out to their senators and ask them to cosponsor."
To find out how you can help pass the Protect Our Kids Act, please click here.