Support for single mothers a priority
Police spokesperson Sgt Wayne Mystar made it sound like a substantial sum, but the $172,349 owed by 35 delinquent dads works out to less than $5,000 per mother. And that, presumably, is money owed over a significant enough length of time for these men to be arrested for failure to pay maintenance. That alone shows how little financial support single mothers get.
At Monday's daily police news briefing, Sgt Mystar revealed that the round-up of the deadbeat fathers was carried out between 10 p.m. on Sunday and 6 a.m. on Monday. This particular law is one which the Police Service seems particularly prone to enforce, but the value of such an exercise is clearly more cosmetic than substantive.
The real punishment is not getting the monies owed, but the embarrassment and trauma of being jailed, and this sends a message to other men who may be tempted to defy court orders which mandate them to support their children's mothers.
But, while it is important that all laws be upheld, this law plays a small part in solving the real problem. When maintenance orders are made, garnishing the father's wages is the most efficient way of ensuring that the mother receives the mandated sum. However, this system only works when the man has a regular income.
Wages cannot be garnished if the father is self-employed or works irregularly. This also means that the persons most likely to be picked up for failure to pay maintenance are those who are least able to afford it — and, when they can't afford it, they end up in jail so that the woman has even less chance of getting the monies owed to her.
Since the children of single mothers have a higher chance of becoming juvenile delinquents, this issue cannot be treated simply as a man-woman relationship problem or even as a cultural challenge. Given the fact that juvenile delinquents often grow into full-fledged criminals, child support for single mothers is clearly a socioeconomic issue.
Although popular belief holds that the absence of a father causes a plethora of psychological problems for children, research suggests that poverty is a more pertinent factor. Single-mother households, whether from out-of-wedlock births or from divorce, are usually poorer than two-parent households. Children of single mothers who do not have extended family support also have less supervision, which exacerbates the income issues.
Ameliorating this problem, therefore, requires an institutional response. Whether it is grants for kindergarten or training in child-care, single mothers need help to compensate for the absence of a helpful father. Which doesn't mean that the authorities shouldn't continue cracking down on deadbeat dads, but only that such a response doesn't go far enough.