Parenting Our Children:



The preceding chapter addresses ways that courts that hear family-related matters can assist families in meeting their parenting responsibilities. This chapter addresses ways that communities can support and strengthen families. The Commission believes that communities can help ensure that both parents, whether married, separated, divorced, or unmarried, play active roles in the lives of their children.

The Commission recognizes that extended families are usually the primary source of support for their members. No outside support network can replace loving family members and friends who are available to give comfort and advice to someone going through a time of crisis or uncertainty.

Within families, grandparents traditionally have played a major role in supporting families during times of uncertainty. Grandparents can be a source of strength and wisdom for their children and grandchildren. Grandparents may be caretakers for the children during family crises or take on a parental role in actually raising them. Siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends also can provide support. In short, families are and must be the first line of support for parents and children in times of family difficulty.

When family or friends cannot perform this role, other resources close to home must do so. Religious institutions, not-for-profit organizations, associations and charitable groups, businesses, schools, and government agencies can help families help themselves. The key for families is to identify resources, determine which resources best meet their needs, and avail themselves of those resources.

The Commission believes that communities must continue to encourage the development of services to help families cope with life's stresses and strains. These services may include education, skills training, counseling, support groups, alternative dispute resolution, and mentoring programs, and may be provided by a wide variety of organizations. Some services may be aimed at teaching young people about the consequences of early marnages and out-of-wedlock births and their effects on the future quality of their lives. Others may prepare people for marnage and help couples confront and resolve problems in marriage. When divorce is inevitable, community programs can help parents come to terms with the divorce, resolve their differences, and work out effective parenting arrangements for their children. For unmarried parents, community programs can help parents fulfill their responsibilities to their children in ways that are responsive to their unique situations.

The Commission believes that communities must continue to encourage the development of services to help families cope with life's stresses and strains.

It is important to underscore the range of community resources potentially available to families. Often neighborhood organizations, voluntary associations, and charities can provide advice and assistance with problem-solving that is grounded in expertise and experience in the community. Religious institutions can provide spiritual guidance and support in seeking effective solutions. Courts, as part of an enhanced role in the community, can provide help to potential litigants and others who apply to them for legal assistance. Businesses can help provide community supports for families and can help their employees work productively by implementing family-friendly policies. Schools can educate and can help young people and their parents address problems. Public and private non-profit programs can provide income and food, health care, job training, mediation, and social and mental health services. Law enforcement agencies can protect those threatened with harm. All of these varied community service providers should be knowledgeable about the roles and responsibilities of other providers and should better coordinate their efforts in order to avoid duplication and to fill gaps in services.

This chapter presents the Commission's findings and recommendations on ways in which communities can support and strengthen families and help ensure that children receive the emotional and financial support of both parents.


The Commission found programs operating in communities that provide a wide range of services designed to strengthen families. These programs assess family needs, identify existing resources and gaps in services, and help families find the appropriate assistance and support. The Commission believes that assuring a mix of family services in the community and promoting awareness of them should be a priority for communities everywhere.

The Commission believes that assuring a mix of family services in the community and promoting awareness of them should be a priority for communities everywhere.

Many ways that communities can help families are discussed below. In addition, Appendix H contains examples of the types of programs and approaches that have come to the attention of the Commission. These may be a useful reference for communities wishing to develop similar programs.

  • Preparing People for Marriage and Promoting Responsible Parenthood
  • The Commission believes it is important to teach young people how to make responsible decisions about marriage and having a family and to help parents of all ages fulfill their responsibilities to provide emotional and financial support to their children. The high national divorce rate and the fact that 30 percent of children in the United States are born to unmarried parents underscore the need to do more to prepare young people for marriage and parenting and to help parents meet their ongoing obligations to their children.

    A variety of community-based adolescent and youth programs are addressing the need to educate and raise the awareness of the level of commitment and maturity that it takes to sustain a marriage and to raise a child. These programs help prepare young people to assess their readiness for such important steps.

    School systems in some States have developed school curncula on parenting rights and responsibilities to help young people understand the legal, financial, and emotional responsibilities of parenthood. The American Bar Association (ABA) has developed an interactive video program for schools. The video is designed to teach teens the communication and negotiation skills needed to resolve common relationship problems that couples face. Head Start programs and child care centers have helped teenage volunteers experience what it is like to care for young children. These programs are useful models for other community groups that want to help young people prepare for marriage and parenting.

    In addition to helping young people prepare for marnage, parenthood, and maintaining a family, communities need to support the parenting efforts of individuals who already have children. Whether married, separated, divorced, or unmarried, parents often need the help of others to strengthen their families and ensure that their children receive the financial and emotional support they need. Community organizations, public programs, religious institutions, and businesses all have roles to play in promoting responsible parenthood.

    Parents who live together may need various kinds of help to strengthen their families. They may need help finding a job or improving their earning capacity so that they can support their families adequately. They may need assistance in managing their fmances or finding affordable housing. They may need to learn to care for their children and provide appropriate guidance and emotional support. They may need advice about the education of their children. They may need to strengthen their relationship with one another and renew their bonds of love and commitment. They may need to learn how to resolve conflicts in a constructive way.

    Parents who live apart from each other have many of the same needs as parents who live together. In addition, they have special needs. They may have more pressing needs for help with employment and increasing their earning skills. They may need assistance to work out how they will share parental responsibilities. If they are divorcing or have experienced an acrimonious divorce with continuing hostility, they may need help to resolve the conflict and focus on the well-being of the children. If they have never married or lived together they may need help in creating a set of shared parenting responsibilities.

    The Commission heard from a variety of local programs that promote responsible parenting that are designed for married parents, single parents, divorcing parents, stepparents, and others. Some of these programs focus on increasing family income through education, job training, and placement. Some focus on teaching family life skills, such as parenting techniques, budget management, and conflict resolution. Others focus on helping remarried parents cope with the children's adjustment to the new marriage. Still others focus on involving unmarried fathers in the lives of their children.

    In addition to helping young people prepare for marriage, parenthood, and maintaining a family, communities need to support the parenting efforts of individuals who already have children.

    For example, Ronald Mincy, Program Officer at the Ford Foundation,' and Ralph Smith, Director of Planning and Development at the Annie E. Casey Foundation,2 described for the Commission the initiatives their foundations are supporting to promote responsible fatherhood. Working through a consortium that includes the Fatherhood Project at the Families and Work Institute in New York City, the Father Policy Institute at the Family Resource Coalition in Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania's National Center on Fathers and Families, and the National Practitioner's Network, these foundations and others are supporting research and dissemination of best practices in support of "fragile families" families headed by disadvantaged, unwed parents. The Families and Work Institute's re

    If they have never married or lived fogether they may need help in creating a set of shared parenting responsibilities.


  • Mentoring At-Risk Teens
  • An important role for communities is providing positive role models for at-risk youth. Adolescents, especially those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, can benefit greatly from relationships with adult mentors who can help them set goals and plan the necessary education, training, and development of positive attitudes to achieve these goals. Adult mentors can help guide young people along the way, providing assistance and encouragement. They can reinforce positive and productive behaviors, such as getting an education, being a supportive parent, and learning and using conflict resolution skills.

    For example, Public/Private Ventures, a non-profit organization that supports the development of program models that foster young people's success, recently completed a control group study of a major mentoring program, the Big BrothersBig Sisters (BBBS) of America. The study showed a dramatic difference in the lives of high-risk young teens, ages 10 to 16, who participated in the program. The BBBS youth showed a substantial reduction in first-time drug use, school absenteeism, and fighting, as compared to their peers outside the program. Overall, they were more trusting of their parents or guardians and more likely to have good relationships with their peers than the control group. These results came from providing adult friendship and guidance on a regular and intensive basis, not from tutoring, anti-drug counseling, or other problem-focused services. Other mentoring programs emphasize the importance of having young adults become economically self-sufficient and responsible. These avenue-out-of-poverty programs are intended to break the cycle of dependency through education, training, and job placement. They bring together businesses, employment and training systems, and the jobready workforce. Like the BBBS program, they include a focus on establishing healthy relationships between high-risk teens or young adults and adults and/or peer support groups. As a result, young adults learn social skills that enable them to connect to job opportunities in the labor market. Cleveland Works, which was mentioned previously, is one such program.

    Recommendation 11:

    Communities should help at-risk teens set viable, long-term goals and develop plans for achieving them through mentoring programs that reinforce responsible behavior and through avenue-out-of-poverty programs that invest in education, training and job placement.

  • Helping Parents Mediate Disputes and Address the Consequences of Divorce
  • Divorce, separation, and remarriage place unique pressures on children and parents. Children who cannot adjust to these changes often experience long-term emotional problems. To avert these consequences, community-based mediation agencies and family support groups can help family members resolve disputes, learn to handle their feelings, improve parenting effectiveness, and enhance self-esteem.

    Community-based dispute resolution agencies, for example, mediate a wide variety of family disputes. They mediate disagreements between married parents, sometimes averting divorce. They mediate disputes of separating and divorcing parents, helping them come up with a settlement and a plan that focuses on the best interests of their children. They mediate disputes between unmarried parents over issues such as establishing paternity and arranging parenting time with children.

    Community-based mediation services are often able to respond quickly and comprehensively and are sometimes available free or at low cost. Indeed, there is presently under-used capacity within many of these programs s This may be because parents are unaware of the availability of these services and how they work. To address this problem, the National Association of Community Mediators in Washington, DC, a member organization for community mediation groups, is developing a directory of the estimated 200 to 300 community-based dispute resolution organizations operating nationwide.

    Beech Acres' Aring Institute in Cincinnati, OH, is a family support organization that offers both mediation and emotional support to parents and children who must adjust to the major life changes occasioned by divorce, remarnage and other family transitions. Director Sally Brush told the Commission that:

    Probably the reason I'm still doing this 20 years later is because of what the children have told me over the years about what the (divorce) experience was like for them. We're raising half our children in families where there's a divorce and we don't know how to do it well.9

    Rainbows, an international non-profit organization operating in 46 states and 10 foreign countries, offers training and curricula for establishing peer support groups in communities to help children and adults who are experiencing divorce, death, or other painful transitions. Its Founder and President Suzy Yehl Marta told the Commission that:

    Every divorce does not begin with the legal system but rather with the emotions of grief. Each divorce is the death of a family unit, usually the nuclear family. The emotions of grief are painful, complex, and often conflicting, and they are felt by every member of the family, no matter what their age.

    Recommendation 12:

    Communities should support the development and public awareness of effective community-based, non-court, dispute resolution, and family support programs that can help family members resolve disputes and address the consequences of divorce.

  • Coordinating and Publicizing Community Resources
  • The Commission believes that collaboration among and within community-based agencies is crucial to strengthening families. Two nationwide membership organizations that work collaboratively to build strong families and foster healthy child development are Family Service America, Inc., and the Family Resource Coalition. These two nationwide membership organizations represent some 1,100 community-based family service providers that offer a broad range of services, including parenting education, literacy training, mentoring of high-risk youth, substance abuse prevention, child care, and information and referral services. The family service providers collaborate with local agencies to coordinate service delivery to families.

    These and similar organizations of member agencies are in a strong position to build alliances with trained, neighborhood-based mediators, and to stimulate the creation of mediation services in communities. Having mediators available to train families in conflict resolution techniques and to mediate high-conflict disputes would complement the efforts of these agencies to ensure family well-being and the future of children.

    In addition to coordinating efforts, communities need to compile lists of local services and programs that help families meet their emotional and financial responsibilities to children, and distribute those lists to the public. The compilation can be shared with cities, counties, States, and the Federal government through resource networks, libraries, computer networks, large organizations, charitable groups, and clearinghouses. Many "undiscovered" effective programs, once highlighted, can be replicated successfully in other communities. Ideally, a national organization could facilitate the publication and dissemination of the information gathered at the local and State level and ensure that the information is complete and current.

    Some of these lists exist already on a national level. For example, the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) and United Way of America recently published The Directory of Information and Referral Services in the United States and Canada.11 This 552 page directory has information about social services broken down by State or province and city. Family Service America, Inc., has published the Directory of Member Agencies in the United States and Canada.12 The agencies are listed by State and by social service subject. These and other directories exemplify comprehensive compilations of services that are helpful both to families and professionals. Ideally, directories should identify exemplary programs that address:

  • Preparing people for marriage and promoting responsible parenthood;
  • Mentoring at-risk teens; and
  • Helping parents mediate disputes and address the consequences of divorce.
  • In addition to describing program service approaches, directories should include key research and demonstration programs that address these areas of study.

    Recommendation 13:

    Communities should develop and disseminate directories of programs that help families meet their emotional and financial responsibilities to their children and foster the creation of networks among these programs.


    At its San Francisco public hearing, the Commission heard testimony from a panel of local religious leaders. The testimony focused on the role religious institutions play in preparing couples for marriage, preventing divorce when possible, and easing conflict when divorce is inevitable. The Commission also heard testimony regarding a wide array of family support services that religious institutions provide in their communities.

  • A Focal Point within the Community
  • Religious institutions can be an important resource for individuals considering marriage, for married couples, and for families needing support related to a divorce or nonmarital birth. Indeed, because religious institutions are a focal point for many families in the community, they often are the first to know of family distress and the first to be in a position to help. For this reason, many religious institutions provide a host of direct services to families, ranging from marnage preparation to teen pregnancy counseling to assistance in coping with the emotional effects of divorce.

    ...because religious institutions are a focal point for many families in the community, they often are the first to know of family distress and the first to be in a position to help.

    Moreover, religious institutions have a valuable resource available within their congregations: people who want to serve and be involved in the community. Many of these people are skilled in the techniques needed to provide assistance to families. If training is needed, the clergy often can enlist training sources at little or no cost. And houses of worship can easily be converted into a locus of services during off hours.

  • Marriage Preparation
  • Because two-thirds of all marriages in 1993 were performed in a religious settingl3 religious institutions are an important community resource with an opportunity to help couples objectively assess their relationship before marriage. "With a 60-percent dissolution rate for new marriages, the engagement should be rigorous enough that weak relationships break up before marriage," says Michael J. McManus in his book Marriage Savers: Helping Your Friends and Family Avoid Divorce.l4

    Traditionally, the clergy have played an active role in preparing couples for marriage and have formalized their advice through premarital courses and curricula. For example, since the 1940s, the Roman Catholic church has required engaged couples to complete a Pre-Cana Conference, a series of lectures dealing with courtship, physiology, morals, and day-to-day issues of marnage, in order to be married in the church. As the divorce rate began to soar in the 1970's and 1980's, religious institutions responded by developing more elaborate marriage preparation courses. They continue to refine their approaches today. The Commission applauds the work of religious institutions in helping prepare couples for marnage. It also supports their efforts to discourage couples from marrying if they are not ready for the commitment or responsibility or if they have unrealistic expectations about marriage. For example, some religious institutions employ various assessment techniques in combination with counseling, exposure to problem solving and conflict resolution techniques to determine a couple's level of maturity and compatibility. Some of the assessment techniques, are already in use, e.g., FOCCUS, PREPARE, and are described in Appendix H.

  • Marriage Enrichment
  • Because marriages go through ups and downs in response to the stresses and strains of daily life, couples often seek the support and guidance of their religious advisor. In addition to the clergy's providing counseling to individual couples, many religious institutions offer programs that are designed to improve marital relations through various small group and mentoring techniques. One of these programs is Marnage Encounter, a weekend retreat involving three or four couples and a member of the clergy for the purpose of strengthening the couples' communication skills and reinforcing their commitment to marriage. Marriage Encounter began in the Catholic Church in the 1960s and has been adapted for use by other denominations such as the Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Jews. Another divorce prevention program available to all faiths is Retrouvaille, the French word for "rediscovery." The Retrouvaille program also uses mentoring couples. In their testimony before the Commission, a Retrouvaille mentoring couple, Ed and Peggy Gleason, talked about their approach:

    We have a team of three (mentorJ couples (and) a priest or a minister, and we present a live-in weekend experience where we tell couples what we were like (as a couple), what happened to make us want to change and reconcile, and what we are like now, and what our families are like now.15

    Similarly, Marriage Ministry, which is Episcopalian in origin and modeled afterAlcoholics Anonymous, uses a mentoring couple and a priest and requires the couple experiencing difficulties to acknowledge each partner's responsibility for his or her part of the problem. The Commission strongly encourages religious institutions to continue their efforts and explore new ways to help couples weather a major breakdown in their marriage and prevent divorce.

  • Family Adjustment
  • When divorce occurs, many families are in turmoil emotionally and financially. The children of divorce often experience dramatic feelings of loss and face significant lifestyle adjustments ranging from the departure of a parent from the home to changes in residence, neighborhood, and school. Parents experience the same losses, coupled with new responsibilities and fears about how they will get along. Many divorcing families and their children benefit from the support of religious institutions during this time of crisis.

    Many unmarried parents and their children also benefit from the attention of religious institutions in their communities. The Reverend Cecil Williams, Minister of Liberation, Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, told the Commission of programs for unmarried parents offered by Glide Memorial. These programs encourage unmarried parents to work together and help them to provide emotional and financial support to their children.l6 The Commission urges religious institutions to develop programs especially geared to unmarried mothers and fathers that will help them fulfill their parenting responsibilities to the fullest.

    Recommendation 14:

    Religious institutions and other community-based groups should work cooperatively to disseminate information about the positive impact on children of the involvement of both parents in their lives and to adopt approaches and expand efforts to reduce the rate and adverse consequences of divorce and nonmarital births.

  • A Call to Do More
  • The Commission encourages religious institutions to make their talents and capabilities in support of families accessible to the whole community. In doing so, the Commission encourages religious institutions to expand their efforts to coordinate with other community family service providers in their work on behalf of families.

    Given their stature in the community, the clergy should look for other ways as well to expand their leadership in efforts to strengthen our Nation's families. Specifically, the Commission calls upon religious leaders to organize a national interdenominational summit to share ideas and methodologies, and to develop strategies to better prepare individuals for marriage and parenting, strengthen intact families, and provide support to families in which parents have separated, divorced, or are not married.

    Recommendation 15:

    Religious leaders should convene a multi-level summit to develop a strategic plan on ways to expand assistance in support of families and provide the necessary interventions to help individuals prepare for marriage and parenting, strengthen intact families, and support families in which parents are separated, divorced, or unmarried.


    Businesses are important to communities and can help strengthen families in two ways: by adopting family-friendly business practices and by collaborating with community organizations and schools to build more effective supports for families.

  • Family-Friendly Business Practices
  • Businesses can help keep families strong by providing the support and flexibility that employees need to be good parents. This is particularly important today, because most parents work outside the home.

    Parents who work outside the home are often away for 8 to 10 of the 12 to 14 hours that their young children are awake. Like all parents, they also must spend time transporting their children to activities, shopping, cleaning, preparing meals, and otherwise maintaining the home. If children are preschoolers, commuting time may be increased to transport the children to and from child care, which often is neither near the home nor the workplace. When a child is sick or otherwise unexpectedly at home, parents may have difficulty caring for them because of their work responsibilities.

    Flexible work schedules can help many of these parents to meet both their family and employment obligations more effectively. Unfortunately, relatively few workers enjoy such flexibility. In 1990, only 15.3 percent of the private sector workforce was on a flexible work schedule. In the public sector (Federal, State, and local governments), just 14.2 percent of workers were on flexible schedules. While the public sector as a whole has less flexible scheduling, 27 percent of Federal workers were on flexible work schedules.

    ...broader adoption by businesses of flexible work schedules, job sharing, telecommuting, employee-choice benefit plans, child care support, and liberal family leave policies would be good not only for America's families but a/so for businesses.

    The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 increased the number of businesses offering family-friendly leave policies by requiring employers to provide unpaid leave at the birth or adoption of a child or for family medical illnesses. Businesses can expand on that foundation and offer more time off, including paid time, for a range of activities in which parental involvement is crucial to the child's development. Businesses can also consider how to lessen the impact of a school system's weather-related closings on parents or how to better coordinate parents' work schedules with school calendars.

    A major concern for parents is the availability of affordable, safe, and nurturing child care. Businesses can help their employees grapple with this issue by providing child care directly or through cooperative arrangements with other businesses, subsidizing child care through pre-tax benefit dollars or direct payment, or helping parents fmd child care.

    The Commission also encourages businesses to sponsor organized children's activities and employee family outings and other events. Such activities strengthen workplace camaraderie and develop positive values in children that carry over into adulthood.

    Several resources are available to help employers construct family-friendly workplaces. For example, the experiences of other businesses can provide useful models. The Corporate Reference Guide to Work-Family Programs and The State Reference Guide to Work-Family Programs for State Employees, both partially funded by the Ford Foundation, rank 188 large corporations and the 50 State governments respectively on their "familyfriendliness." Child magazine featured an article by James Levine and Carol Hernandez entitled "30 Great Companies for Dads" that highlighted businesses whose workplace policies recognize the importance of family to men. Working Mother magazine publishes an annual survey of the best corporations in America for mothers working outside the home. Finally, organizations such as the Families and Work Institute in New York City are a source of ongoing information about polices of employers.

    In short, the Commission believes that broader adoption by businesses of fIexible work schedules, job sharing, telecommuting, employee-choice benefit plans, child care support, and liberal family leave policies would be good not only for America's families but also for businesses. Added flexibility helps parents respond better to the needs of their children. Businesses benefit by attracting more qualified job candidates, and achieving a better ftt between employees and jobs.

    Recommendation 16:

    Businesses should develop family-friendly practices to build more effective supports for families.

  • Businesses Working with Community Organizations and Schools
  • The Commission urges businesses to become active partners with civic organizations, religious institutions, schools, service providers, neighborhood groups, and parents themselves in building more effective supports for families in their communities.

    For example, in recognizing that today's students are tomorrow's workers, businesses can play an active role with parents and teachers to make schools effective places for young people to learn. The communications, goal setting, planning, and problem-solving skills that young people will need to succeed in tomorrow's world can be fashioned by businesses that work together with parents, teachers, and students.

    Some businesses have adopted schools or made their personnel available to work with schools. In some instances, public/private partnerships have involved businesses in investments of equipment and technical staff to upgrade schools. For example, several companies contributed over $6 million in cash, equipment and in-kind services toward the establishment of 13 high-tech laboratories to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology inAlexandria, Virginia. Businesses have also worked with school systems on programs to teach students about a particular aspect of business. For example, the Open Gateways Program of Sun Microsystems Foundation, Inc., supports 11 school districts in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties in California through grants for hardware, software, and training. The Foundation also supports SmartSchools NetDay, where Sun employees volunteer their technical expertise in 35 schools in the Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay area, and Sun provides products to the schools at substantial discount. Businesses can receive favorable publicity from their involvement in these kinds of endeavors and prepare a better trained pool of workers from which to draw in the future.


    The Commission believes that government plays a vital role in fostering the well-being of children and families and helping to ensure that children receive the emotional and financial support of both parents.

    The Federal government funds many programs that help families. These programs provide a vast array of services in areas such as nutrition, health, income support, child support enforcement, and child welfare. The Federal government also provides leadership in research, disseminating information about best practices, and being an information resource for communities. For example, in June 1995, President Clinton directed Federal agencies to begin a review of their programs, policies, research, evaluation, and personnel practices to strengthen the role of fathers in families. Federal agencies currently are engaged in this assessment, with the expectation of improving family-related policies government-wide. The Federal government can bring attention to issues, too, through initiatives and public education campaigns.

    State and local governments also have a key role to play. They not only fund programs that help families, but also can do a great deal to encourage innovative and effective programs in local communities that lead to greater parental responsibility and nurturing of children. As parents are strengthened and empowered and their children thrive, families can create powerful, vibrant, attractive communities.

    Although governments at all levels have a long history of addressing the unmet needs of children and families, and much good is being done, the Commission believes that governments must be learning organizations open to new ideas and new ways of doing business. New and creative initiatives are needed to marshall public, private, and nonprofit expertise to create a common vision, set an agenda, and move toward realizing goals.

  • Family-Friendly Policies
  • Because government policies and programs have a major impact on people's lives it is important for government to ensure that these policies and programs work for families and do not unintentionally interfere with family formation, family stability, and parents taking care of their children. The Commission believes that government, in partnership with other public entities, the private sector, and citizens, has a responsibility to help build a society that values families and communities. One way that government can do this is by ensuring that policies and program regulations further rather than hinder parents' efforts to provide ongoing emotional and fmancial support to their children.

    The Commission believes that government, in partnership with other public entities, the private sector, and citizens, has a responsibility to help build a society that values families and communities.

    Although the Commission did not have the resources to study and make recommendations on government policies that promote or act as barners to parents in providing emotional and financial support to their children, it urges legislators and other government policymakers to examine these policies and to be mindful of their effects when shaping future policies. Since the 1970s, increased housing, transportation, education, and health care costs, wage stagnation, and a high tax burden on the average family have contributed to a decline of family formation and family disintegration, greater child poverty, and economic insecurity among all but the wealthiest Americans. It is important to consider the impact of government policies on these trends. To cite just one example, under the current Federal tax code two individuals who marry often pay higher taxes than if they had remained single. The Commission believes this marnage penalty is one of several tax and other policies that should be examined and reformed to help parents support their children.

    The Commission believes that there are many ways for governments to pursue the goal of having family-friendly policies and programs. The Commission's recommendations as well as ongoing efforts that the Commission supports, are discussed in the remainder of this section.

    Recommendation 17:

    Governments at all levels should adopt as a priority the goal of keeping both parents involved emotionally and financially in the lives of their children.

    Recommendation 18:

    Governments at all levels should evaluate laws and policies with respect to their effects on families.

    Recommendation 19:

    Governments at all levels should examine tax codes and modify them to provide greater support for families with children and to eliminate marriage penalties.

  • Collaboration Among Programs for Families
  • At least 30 States have initiated comprehensive reform strategies to improve the coordination, integration, and effectiveness of services for children and families, often using collaborative councils, commissions or cabinets as a springboard for their efforts.22

    These collaborative bodies take several forms. Cabinets or councils generally include the State commissioners or deputy commissioners of various childand family-service agencies. Sometimes a superagency is created with line authority over several different agencies. These bodies may provide strategic planning, policy development, budget development, recommendations for funding reallocation, and coordination or supervision of parallel local bodies. The Commission believes that these bodies can play a significant role in ensuring that children receive the emotional and financial support of both parents through the following kinds of activities:

    The Commission supports the efforts of States to improve collaboration among family-focused programs at the State and local level and encourages other States to follow the path of the 30 or more that have already begun to implement these reforms.

  • Parent Leadership in Communities
  • There is a growing movement to utilize parent peer groups to help resolve parenting problems and to develop parent leaders who will work constructively with social service providers, community planners, and policymakers toward a more responsive delivery of family services.

    Parents Anonymous, Inc., and Head Start are two examples of programs that emphasize the importance of parents helping parents and parent leadership. Parents Anonymous, Inc. (PA), created in 1970 to help parents overcome abusive behavior toward their children, has expanded its mission to include 2,000 neighborhood-based support groups that help parents acquire parenting skills, share their frustrations about parenting, build self esteem, and reach out to others in the community. PA plans to establish a Parents Anonymous National Resource Center on Parent Leadership. The Center will promote parent involvement and, even beyond involvement, parent leadership. Health, education, and human service professionals will receive training and technical assistance in methods of encouraging and supporting strong parent involvement. Interested parents will receive training and materials related to advocacy, self-assertiveness, communication, community building, and public speaking. The goal is to develop parent involvement and leadership in planning and implementing services to children and families all across America and to inform key policymakers and the public about current issues facing families.

    The Head Start program, which focuses on the developmental needs of children, has a strong parent involvement and leadership component. The Head Start Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recently published and disseminated to all Head Start grantees a Head Start Handbook of the Parent Involvement Vision and Strategies. A good portion of the handbook is dedicated to creating opportunities for parents to become involved in decisions which affect their lives, the lives of their children, and the functioning of their communities. For example, Head Start agencies are urged to provide formal leadership training to parent volunteers who are transitioning out of Head Start so that their leadership skills can benefit community-based programs and organizations.

    These and related efforts can greatly assist parents to become valuable resources in their communities. The Commission believes that State and local governments and private organizations should develop ways to identify and train parent volunteers for this purpose. Volunteers would learn about good parenting, problems that parents confront, group processes for problem solving, skills in communication, knowledge of the local family support system, and ways to access community resources that can help families in times of crisis. Once trained, they would work with mothers and fathers to help them resolve their parenting issues and develop the skills they need to provide for their children. They would provide outreach, mentoring, and peer support under the auspices of institutions in the community, such as courts, family resource programs, schools, religious institutions, and community centers. They would also take a leadership role in ensuring that these institutions provide effective services to families in the community.

    Recommendation 20:

    Government and private organizations should encourage the training of parent leaders who will help other parents improve their parenting and problem-solving skills and will work to intluence and improve the delivery of family services in their communities.

  • Public Schools as a Community Resource
  • Public schools represent an important community resource. Parents often view schools as a critical first line of support for today's young people and for families. School personnel teachers, principals, psychologists, guidance counselors, and others contend with learning problems, behavioral difficulties, and emotional distress on a daily basis. School-based services may include child and teen counseling, comprehensive evaluations and needs assessments, classroom intervention strategies, parent education, referral services to outside agencies for specialized problems, and a host of other activities that promote the well-being of children, youth, and families. With all of these assets, schools are an excellent community resource.

    Kentucky has pioneered the use of schools as community resource centers. Over 500 family resource centers serve 700 public schools in Kentucky. The schools and area social service providers collaborate to bring individualized services to the children and families. These services include infant/toddler care, intervention programs, counseling and mental health services for children and their families, general education degree training for parents, and home visiting for at-risk young mothers and their children. The Commission supports these schoolbased efforts and believes that public schools are a unique resource for families. School personnel, through their leadership position in the community, can be natural role models for parents and children, teaching positive, nurturing behavior by example. School-sponsored activities that draw parents into the school with their children provide additional opportunities for families to gain insights into the importance of parental involvement in their children's lives. Schools can be an important resource for community-based programs seeking to work with families in yet another way. Schools generally are situated in residential communities and often have space where community-based organizations and groups can provide a wide array of services to assist children and families. Many schools have kitchens, gymnasiums, meeting spaces, libraries, and on-site technology, and often space is available for use by community programs during nonschool hours at little or no cost.

    Recommendation 21:

    Public schools should be catalysts for widely based community efforts to strengthen families and encourage parent groups to make greater use of school facilities.


    The Commission believes that communities can do much to assure the well-being of children. Parents can be empowered and families can be strengthened through community support. Coordinated assistance by various voluntary, public, religious, and business institutions can help relieve the many pressures on today's families and help parents obtain the tools they need to better cope with their lives and their families.

    What is needed is to better prepare young adults for marriage, strengthen existing twoparent families, and support parents and children when marnages dissolve or families do not form. For some communities that means adopting proven approaches and finding more effective ways to use existing resources. For others it means developing new resources where there presently are none. Whether children are in families with two parents who live together or whether their parents live apart, they can benefit from a supportive community that puts families first.



  • The Need for More Research
  • The Commission was hampered in its deliberations by a scarcity of definitive research on many subjects that were of concern. In addition, much of the research that was examined by the Commission was dependent upon the emphasis of the researcher, choice of study sample, and how the variables were measured, making it difficult to compare one study to another. The Commission believes there is a general need for studies that use larger, more representative samples. Many of the existing studies are based on samples that do not represent or compare adequately the full universe of married, divorced, separated, and unmarried parents and their children. There also is a need for more longitudinal studies. The effects of successful and unsuccessful marriages, divorce, separation, out-of-wedlock birth, and various parental decision-making, parenting time, and residential arrangements on the well-being of children need to be studied over time. It is also important to more clearly identify some of the factors that make a successful marnage and to learn more about why marriages come apart. Finally, more carefully constructed studies are needed to determine the extent of gender and other bias in judicial decision-making and the effects of innovations in court procedures (such as mediation) on helping separated, divorced, and unmarried parents provide emotional and financial support to their children.

    Recommendation 22:

    Federal and State governments and other research funding sources should sponsor additional research and disseminate findings on important issues such as: 1) the elements of a successful marriage; 2) the causes of divorce; 3) the effects of different parenting arrangements on children; 4) the impact of divorce on the well-being of children; 5) the well-being of children of unmarried parents; and 6) the components of the current legal system that promote or fail to promote the continued financial and emotional support of children by both parents.

  • Promoting the Commission's Recommendations
  • The Commission believes that the modern family is facing issues today that often throw it into turmoil. About 1 million children experience the divorce of their parents each year. Close to another million are born to unmarried parents. The recommendations contained in this report, if implemented, will help ensure that children receive the emotional and financial support of both their parents.

    Many of the reforms will cost money, but the Commission believes they are investments that must be made. Others will merely require refocusing court and community efforts on family issues and engaging in concerted outreach. Everyone needs to be better informed about what can be done to assure that children receive the love, care and financial support they deserve from both of their parents. "Parenting Our Children is in the Best Interest of our Nation!"

    Recommendation 23:

    Federal, State, and local government and private entities should participate in a broad public education program to promote the Commission's recommendations.


    Record of Voting for the Final Report

    The following duly appointed members of the U.S. Commission on Child and Family Welfare voted on the final report and the recommendations contained therein as follows:

    The following duly appointed members of the U.S. Commission on Child and Family Welfare prepared and submitted statements which are found in Appendix D:

    Donald R. Bardill

    John Guidubaldi

    Bill Harrington

    Cynthia Gulley Wiedemann


    Biographies of the Commissioners

    Mary R. Cathcart, Chair, Orono, Maine.

    Ms. Cathcart was a member of Maine's House of Representatives from 1988 until 1994. She served on a number of boards and commissions concerning child welfare, domestic violence, and juvenile corrections. Prior to her legislative service, Ms. Cathcart was a Community Education Coordinator for Spruce Run Association, a battered women's project, and served as a member of the Maine Commission for Women. She is currently a candidate for the Maine Senate.

    Honorable Robert E. Robles, Vice Chair, Las Cruces, New Mexico:

    Judge Robles was appointed District Judge by Governor Bruc:e King in 1991 and was subsequently elected to office in the Third Judicial District. Judge Robles presides over all family law matters including dissolution of matriage, custody, visitation, child support, paternity petitions, Violence Protection Act petitions, and the Family Law Mediation program.

    Kathryn Monahan Ainsworth, J.D., Portland, Maine:

    Ms. Ainsworth is a founder of Resources for Divorced Families and through this established KIDS FIRST: Parenting Through Divorce, an educational program for parents. She is a trained family mediator and, as an attorney, has focused on children's and family issues and court reform. She was thc director of a commission that studied the future of Maine's courts and serves on committees that work to utilize alternatives to the courts. Recently she served as an American Bar Association consultant to the court system in Latvia. She currently is a facilitator/mediator with the firm of Gosline, Reitmen and Ainsworth, where she concentrates on collaborative problem solving and conflict resolution.

    Donald R. Bardill, Ph.D., Tallahassee, Florida:

    Dr. Bardill is the former Dean of, and presently a Professor in, the School of Social Work at Florida State University (FSU). Currently, he is the Acting Training Director for the FSU Mazriage and Family Therapy Clinic and editor of The Journal of Family Social Work. He has been the president of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and chief social worker at Walter Reed Hospital and has published articles on the subject of children and the family.

    Carol Statuto Bevan, Ed.D., Washington D.C.:

    Dr. Bevan is a Professional Staff Member of the Human Resources Subcommittee of the Committee on Ways and Means in the U.S. House of Representatives (HOR). At the time of her appointment to the Commission she held the position of Vice President for the National Council for Adoption. Dr. Bevan has previously served as the Republican Staff Director of the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, HOR. As an expert on child and family issues Dr. Bevan has worked extensively to develop legislation related to child and family welfare.

    Nancy Duff Campbell, J.D., Washington, D.C.:

    Ms. Campbell is an attorney and founder and Co-President of the National Women's Law Center, an organization that for over 20 years has worked to advance and protect the legal rights of women. An expert on income security and family support issues, Ms. Campbell has helped develop and implement key legislative initiatives, litigation, and public education programs that benefit women and their families. She has served on several boards and task forces, authored numerous publications, and been honored by the District of Columbia Bar with its William J. Brennan Award for her legal career dedicated to service in the public interest.

    George C. Cheek, Mill Creek, Washington:

    Mr. Cheek, a retired business cxecutive, is presently a consultant in marketing and public affairs. Previously he was Senior Vice President for Public Affairs for the Potlatch Corporation in San Francisco and Executive Vice President of the American Forest Institute in Washington DC.

    Jamcs C. Dobson, Ph.D., Colorado Springs, Colorado:

    Dr. Dobson is a psychologist, author, and the founder and President of Focus on the Family. This non-profit organization produces a nationally syndicated radio program. Dr. Dobson has served on a variety of national advisory boards, task forces, panels, and commissions. These have included Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the U.S. Army's Family Initiative, the Panel on Teen Pregnancy Prevention, and the Advisory Board on Missing and Exploited Children. Dr. Dobson is a clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

    John Guidubaldi, Ed.D. Kent, Ohio:

    Dr. Guidubaldi is a Professor of School Psychology and Education at John Carroll University and Professor Emeritus at Kent State University. He is past President of the National Association of School Psychologists and the Portage County Family Counseling and Mental Health Center. He is coauthor of the Battelle Developmental Inventory and the director of a nationwide longitudinal study of the effects of divorce on children and has published articles on the subject. Under a grant from the State of Ohio, he studied the relationship of father involvement to child adjustment in two large Ohio cities. He was the founder and editor of The School Psychology Review and Highlights Magazine's Newsletter of Parenting.

    Bill Harrington, Tacoma/Seattle, Washington:

    Mr. Harrington is President of the American Fathers' Alliance in W ashington, DC, an umbrella coalition of 280 fathers' rights organizations throughout America. The Alliance is focused on national family policy issues and development. In his role as a fathers' movement leader, Mr. Harrington testified before both the U.S. Senate Finance Committee as well as the House Ways and Means Committee in support of national welfare reform in 1994,1995 and 1996. Mr. Harrington is employed as a legal assistant with priority on custody, paternity, parental relocation, and child support issues. He is President of Fathers' Rights in Washington State and is a board member of the Northwest Men's Law Center based in Tacoma, Washington.

    Barbara J. Sabol, R.N., Bethesda, Maryland:

    Ms. Sabol is President of University Research Corporation, which provides training in leadership development, management, health, education, and communication services. Previously, she headed New York City's Human Resources Administration, the nation's largest public welfare agency. Ms. Sabol also is a member of the Boards of Directors for Girl Scouts USA and the American Public Welfare Association.

    James G. Sherman, ACSW, Peoria, Illinois:

    Mr. Sherman is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Children's Home Association of Illinois. The Association provides home-based services to families to prevent the removal of children from their homes. The Association also provides residential, group home, and transitional living services, teen parenting programs, and mental health services for children. Mr. Sherman is the Youth Exchange Officer of the Downtown Rotary Club and is a member of the Board of Directors.

    Kaye Theimer, Ph.D., San Francisco, California:

    Dr. Theimer formed a consulting firm, Childworks Inc., which helps business and government employers develop and implement family support programs for their employees. More recently, Dr. Theimer formed a public/ private partnership, the Partnership for Children, to mobilize community involvement in improving the lives of children. She serves on the Board of Directors of Children Now, a child advocacy organization with offic:es in Oakland, Sacramento, and Los Angeles, California.

    Marna S. Tucker, L.L.B., Washington, D.C.:

    Ms. Tucker co-chairs the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence. She is a senior partner in the law firm of Feldsman, 'Ibcker, Leifer, Fidell and Bank, practicing for over 25 years in the field of domestic relations including divorce and custody. Ms. Tucker is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and of the American College of Trial Lawyers. In 1984, she was elected the first woman President of the District of Columbia Bar.

    Cynthia Gulley Wiedemann, Dallas, Texas:

    Ms. Wiedemann is a consultant in public relations and marketing. She was a member of the Texas Advisory Council on Domestic Violence for six years and served on the boards of the Austin Battered Women's Center and the Dallas Family Place. She is a former staffer for the U.S. Senate Judiciary and Finance Committees.


    Commission Staff and Acknowledgements