A few days before Father’s Day, members of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus announced their support of a Raleigh-based nonprofit’s mission to get fairer visitation and other rights for fathers.
Rep. Garland Pierce, a Democrat who represents the state’s 48th District (which includes Hoke, Richmond, Robeson and Scotland counties), said the concerns of men who participate in Every Father Counts were brought to the caucus’ attention by President Milton McCoy; legislators thought that Father’s Day weekend was an ideal time to share those concerns.
“We definitely understand the importance of men being in young boys and girls’ lives. We have different problems in our community based on the absence of fathers; some are of our own making,” Pierce said. “There are some who really want to do the right thing, but because of circumstances, once they get in the court system, it stops families from being together.”
Every Father Counts maintains that fathers are not given equal treatment in child custody litigation. The group is fighting to ensure that laws are developed and ratified to guarantee that fathers have child visitation rights at least 33 percent of the time.
According to McCoy, there are 24 million children growing up without a relationship with their father.
“Statistics show if a father has an opportunity to be part of a child’s life, the child has a greater opportunity of being a success and an asset to society,” McCoy said. “If North Carolina is active in reversing this troubling trend, this will benefit the child, the father and the community.”
The nonprofit believes that a father’s rights should only be taken away if the father is convicted of a crime that would deem him a threat to his children. The group argues that no new laws should be made to impede a father’s right to see his children and that existing laws should be reviewed and updated to support a father’s right to be a father.
Sen. Earline Parmon of Forsyth County said fathers deserve a fairer shake.
“It appears that many times, even in the court system, that the father is not given the same opportunity to be a father as mothers,” said Parmon, the first vice chair of the Caucus. “We just want it known, particularly for African American families, that fathers have the opportunity to be the role of a father to their children. Study after study has shown that young children need a father. Young women need a father to help them understand relationships and to understand a fathers role. Young men need that role model to grow into responsible young men.”
Pierce said that while women do a great job of raising their children, the presence of a man is very important.
He said that there was no current legislation proposed to address the nonprofit’s concerns, but that while the legislature is out of session, there are plans to research programs that are working across the United States to see if they can be implemented in North Carolina.
“Now is a good time to look again at barriers that prevent families being together. Once you get in that system, there are just some rules, regulations and legislation that stops the family from being together,” Pierce said. “ I think we should have more of a common sense approach as it relates to husband/wife and boyfriend/girlfriend in general because the children suffer.”
Parmon said she has seen trends and laws that were not always favorable to the male parent. She said that the caucus wants to take an active role in talking to defense attorneys, prosecutors and other organizations to develop legislation that will give fathers equal footing.
“Many times, while father’s may not have the financial resources, they still want that opportunity to be a part of the child’s life,” she said. “We want to be a part of that conversation with fathers to help develop something to ensure that in the court system or mediation.”
Pierce said ultimately, the goal of the caucus is to help children by making families stronger.
“We have to do all that we can to encourage fatherhood and make every attempt to keep children connected with their fathers,” Pierce said. “At the end of the day, regardless of the behavior of fathers or mothers, children love their parents and we want them to grow up not being alienated from one parent.”
For more information about Every Father Counts, visit www.everyfathercounts.org or call 1-855-444-DADS (3237).