I live in Alexandria, Virginia, and in my particular area of town the member of the House of Delegates (the lower chamber of the state legislature) is Charniele Herring, a Democrat who I understand typically takes fairly left-learning positions. Now, that’s par for the course around here, so normally I don’t think twice about her. But I do receive her periodic email newsletter, and while normally there are plenty of things with which I disagree, it’s only in today’s that I finally read something that made me genuinely angry.
Specifically, I was very disappointed by Ms. Herring’s use of the use of the derogatory term “deadbeat dads” in her recent newsletter to constituents. This hateful phrase deserves to be scrapped for two reasons.
First, not all parents who aren’t able to make their child support payments are “deadbeats”. There are all sorts of reasons that a parent may not be able to live up to his or her court-determined financial obligations. Unwillingness is one, yes, but others include unemployment, underemployment, other family emergencies, unexpected tax liabilities, illness or other disability, and so forth.
In many cases, a parent who has fallen seriously behind financially faces the prospect of six months in prison for contempt of court. Since this is not technically a criminal matter, the parent doesn’t even have the right to legal representation. Is a child really better off with that parent behind bars? And is a society for which imprisonment is the first resort really the one in which we want to live?
Second, not all parents who aren’t able to make their child support payments are dads. While the majority of non-custodial parents may indeed be fathers, so too are there mothers who for whatever reason are the ones whose children primarily reside with the other parent. I would have thought this would go without saying in the 21st century, particularly from someone such as Ms. Herring who otherwise comes across as progressive. Sadly, it would seem this is not yet the case.
This term may be a convenient way to score cheap political points, but at its heart it’s a way to demonize yet another segment of our population, people who in many instances may actually need help rather than scorn and punishment if they’re to regain the ability to meet their children’s needs. Child support enforcement could well use far reaching reform in Virginia, but that reform should be based on the idea of focusing on what’s best for the child rather than what’s worst for the non-compliant parent. Let’s hope that Ms. Herring’s unfortunate turn of phrase doesn’t mean she advocates going in the wrong direction.