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More than 18,000 poor Buffalo children grow up without fathers : Children of Poverty : The Buffalo News

In Best Interest of the Child, Child Custody, Child Support, children's behaviour, Childrens Rights, Civil Rights, custody, deadbeat dads, Department of Social Servies, Divorce, Domestic Relations, Domestic Violence, Family Court Reform, Family Rights, fatherlessness, Marriage, Non-custodial fathers, Non-custodial mothers, Parental Kidnapping, Parental Relocation, Parental Rights Amendment, Parentectomy, Parents rights, Restraining Orders, Sociopath on August 14, 2009 at 6:00 pm

I sometimes wonder why a mother chooses not to marry the father of her child, and why a father chooses not to marry the woman he impregnated. 

I think people that do this are stupid, selfish, self-centered and deep down and sociopaths in their relationship with each other and their children.

The only ones who I feel sorry are the children, children, children.  Also the taxpayers of this country wind up paying for the parents selfish behavior, if the mother refuses the help of the father, and the father refuses to offer help. Also through on top of this welfare laws that totally disenfranchise fathers, particularly poor white and black fathers, and you have a recipe for disaster. – Parental Rights

CHILDREN OF POVERTY: A CONTINUING SERIES


More than 18,000 poor Buffalo children grow up without fathers

NEWS STAFF REPORTER


Dante Brown is a playful, rambunctious toddler growing up on the city’s West Side. TraJanae Sanders is the same kind of kid, growing up on the East Side.

A lot separates these 2-year-olds, but in some important ways, their young lives already echo with similarity. Both are poor.

Both are being raised by young women who bore them as teenagers.

And neither child has a dad at home. Dante and TraJanae are two faces of a change that’s deeply affecting many neighborhoods in Buffalo — where today 43 percent of children live below the poverty line.

These two children, and at least 18,450 others in the city, are growing up in low-income homes headed by women alone. This is fatherless Buffalo.

The disintegration of the two-parent family in poor city neighborhoods, many people say, has contributed to the transformation of many once-vital streets into poverty-racked places where low-rent apartments fill with the same kinds of occupants:

Single mothers with young children. Fathers, here, have largely vanished.

“He’s a joke to me now,” Dante Brown’s mother, Janelle Dzina, said about the father of Dante. He left Buffalo for Toronto when Janelle was four months’ pregnant.

“These men,” said Dzina, who also has a 1-year-old daughter, Maria Irizarry, “they don’t respect women.”

The number of children growing up in poverty without fathers at home in Buffalo includes 5,388 of the city’s youngest children, those under age 5, census data shows.

And those numbers reveal just a slice of the problem. Many single moms — TraJanae’s mom, TaNisha Cole, among them — live with older female relatives to cope and thus don’t show up in most statistics.

Everyone — from the women raising babies, to public officials, to fathers themselves — agrees that this shift in household structure matters, especially to children.

“I’m going to work as hard as I can to be there for my children,” said Darius Sanders, 30, no relation to TraJanae, who got out of prison last year and has four kids in Buffalo with two women, none of whom he lives with. “But I feel like I’ve been on a hill for the last seven, eight months. It’s rough.”

Close observers differ in their opinions of why the problem exists — and how to fix it.

Some say society is to blame, for setting poor men up for failure as dads.

“They’re being excluded,”
said Sterling Pierce Jr., who works with poor parents in the city, many of them fathers, who don’t live with their kids. “It’s a societal problem.”

Others argue that much of the blame rests with the fathers.

“These men, they don’t know how to be fathers,”
said Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, a Harvard professor and nationally known voice on the status of the black family in America. “They walk away from it. They get their feelings of manhood from making babies — not from raising babies.”

Buffalo is not alone in facing this problem. It’s changing the fabric of cities nationwide.

Across the country, 37 percent of all children born in 2005 had single mothers.

In the black community, the proportion is much greater: Nearly 70 percent of black children are now born into single-mother households, data shows.

In recent months, this disintegration of the low-income family has drawn new attention.

Sen. Barack Obama spoke of the breakdown of poor families in a major speech on race in Philadelphia in March, when the Illinois Democrat criticized the “legacy of defeat” that plagues many black families today.

“A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family contributed to the erosion of black families,” Obama said, “a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened.”

The families of Dante and TraJanae know those problems only too well.

Dante’s mom, Janelle, received welfare for 18 months because the fathers didn’t provide steady income for her kids. The 21-year-old recently landed a part-time job at a downtown restaurant.

TraJanae’s mom braids hair to make money; she relies on her mother for shelter and food, and she uses the WIC program for baby supplies. TraJanae’s father has not helped at all, she said.

“My daughter is 2z, and he’s given her a total of $50 and two sweaters,” said Cole, 21. “He’s pretty much like other guys his age. They want to be rappers. I’m not thinking about being a rapper — I’ve got diapers and wipes to buy.”

‘It’s hard to parent’

What’s happening to fathers in Buffalo’s poor neighborhoods?

Why are they disappearing? And does it matter?

Even the fathers themselves don’t know all the answers.

“It’s hard to parent,” said Sanders, a truck driver struggling to get by on the poverty line. “That connection is not there. I’m still trying to figure that out, to be honest.”

Much of the problem, observers said, may lie in the educational and job opportunities open to poor men.

Buffalo schools have a high dropout rate: 39 percent. After school ends, young men in depressed neighborhoods struggle to find good-paying, secure jobs. Many don’t have transportation, which adds to the problem, since few jobs exist in run-down city neighborhoods.

“Some people say, let them pull themselves up by their bootstraps, get a job and make money,” said Lenora B. Foote-Beavers, a support magistrate for Erie County Family Court. “I say, what if they don’t have bootstraps? What then? Especially in a depressed area like Buffalo, where good jobs are hard to find.”

That’s why many of the young women who get pregnant by these men find themselves the better-educated and more steadily employed of the pair.

Like TaNisha Cole. When she found out she was pregnant, neither Cole nor the baby’s father had a full-time job. Cole stuck it out and finished high school; her boyfriend didn’t. He dropped out, planning on earning a GED, but never did.

“He was like, ‘Let’s get a house and live together,’ ” said Cole, watching her daughter play with coloring books in a tiny bedroom decorated with Disney princess posters and a yellow TV. “I was not in agreement with that. Neither one of us was working to the point we’d be stable enough to pay rent, pay bills, buy diapers, all of that.”

Another problem with some men — particularly in black communities — is that they end up with arrest and prison records. In New York, 6.4 percent of black adult men were in prison, compared with 0.5 percent of white adult men, a 2002 study by Human Rights Watch found.

That makes it difficult for these men to support families once they get out of jail, some said, since many employers don’t want to hire people with these backgrounds.

“They get recycled out, they’re ex-inmates who are stigmatized, who don’t have any skills and who have problems getting jobs because no one will hire them,” said Poussaint. “And when they’ve been in jail, they feel even more like they’re unable to be a father — they feel they should stay away from their kids, because they’re a bad role model.”

Sanders went through that cycle last July, when he was released from prison.

“It was like starting from scratch,” Sanders said of walking out of prison with $30,000 in child support claims against him for his four kids, a revoked truck driver’s license and no prospects of work. “I’m trying to get my life back on track.”

A touchy subject

There’s also such a thing as personal responsibility of the fathers — a touchy subject.

Poussaint’s new book with entertainer Bill Cosby, “Come on People,” has been criticized by some for its message that black men need to take more responsibility for their choices and family obligations.

“People say, ‘You’re blaming the victim.’ They say you should never blame the victim or criticize them,” said Poussaint. “That’s backward. That’s a status-quo position. It’s a position that has almost no expectations of the victim.”

Dr. Ruby K. Payne, a nationally known expert on poor children and education, has also drawn attention — and some controversy — for her views on black men and their role in fathering children but not caring for families.

“When you don’t have role identity [as through a job], you only have gender identity. And proof of gender identity is sexual identity,” said Payne, based in Texas. “And proof of that is the children you produce.”

But if something is shifting deep within Buffalo’s poor fathers, something has changed in the minds of the city’s poor young women, too.

Mostly, it’s a matter of expectations — the ideas of these young women about what their futures will look like.

“There’s a lot of bitterness among these girls, about men, about the fathers of their kids,” said Carol Greetham, who runs a support group for single teenage mothers at the Buffalo Christian Center downtown.

The idea of a baby’s father in the home, for these teens, she said, “is so foreign, it’s like seeing surfing on TV for them.”

Payne said that babies have become something important in the lives of poor young men and women, but not in a healthy way: They’ve become a rite of passage.

“Rites of passage in the middle class are when you graduate, or when you can drive,” she said. “In poverty, it’s fathering — or mothering — a child.”

Major transformation

Young women living in poverty in Buffalo’s neighborhoods said that a major transformation of family structure has occurred in their families in just the last generation or two.

They remember their grandmothers as married women, living with one man in a stable home.

Their own mothers had more varied experiences: Some met and married men and raised families with them, but many others became single mothers — often, the first generation of single mothers in their families.

Now, these young women in the late teens and 20s find themselves living in a universe where no young women they know in their peer group are married or engaged.

These women do not expect to have a long-term relationship with the men that father their children.

This is not a fluke or a mistake. It’s the common culture.

“Some of the baby’s fathers are around, but most are not,” said Cole, who hopes to move into an apartment of her own later this year. “They’re saying, ‘So what if you had a baby — I laid down with you, that’s it.’ I see that every day. These guys say, ‘I’m too young to be a father.’ They’re trying to be a gangster.”

A few young women still hold out hopes for that kind of two-parent home.

“I think it’s right to get married. I want to get married,” said Dzina, who grew up in an Italian-American Catholic family and broke down crying when she told her mother she was pregnant with Dante. “I just want stability. I want my children to see daddy leaving for work every morning.”

Some small steps

The fatherlessness of Buffalo’s poor children isn’t a problem that can be fixed overnight.

But some small steps toward reversing the trend are being taken.

On the state level, a pilot program launched in late 2006 has put programs to enforce “responsible” parenthood into place in five locations statewide.

In Erie County, that resulted in $500,000 going toward programs to help absent parents reunite with their families. In Chautauqua County, the programs totaled $200,000. Since their inception, those programs in the bicounty area have helped 869 parents, mostly fathers, in various ways, and some have returned to their families, officials said.

One such program will lay out $300,000 over two years to aid hundreds of men and some women who are currently dissociated from their families, said Pierce, the program’s coordinator.

“It’s designed to help them feel more comfortable being a parent,” said Pierce. “It’s a learning process. If they’re not in that home, living with that child, how do they learn those skills? Typically, these fathers don’t have the support systems. They don’t have the moms showing them how to change a diaper.”

In addition, an earned-income tax credit program for noncustodial parents was launched across the state in 2007 in an effort to provide financial incentive to absent fathers to keep up with their child support payments, said David A. Hansell, commissioner of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

“We should all have an altruistic interest in helping these children, whether they’re our children or not,” said Hansell. “But kids who grow up in a home without a second parent are more likely to end up in prison, more likely to have problems with employment, they’re less likely to graduate from high school and college.”

On the grassroots level, some small groups have formed to help poor people on both sides of the equation: men with being good fathers, women with coping as single moms. The teen moms’ group that Greetham runs with co-organizer Diana Hills at the Christian Center is one example.

At bimonthly meetings, teen mothers get a chance to eat dinner together, socialize and learn from guest speakers and other educational programs. Greetham and Hills, who began the group three years ago with one teen to start, said they’ve helped about 25 young moms so far.

“It’s growing slowly, organically,” said Hills. “I’m not disappointed with where we are. But there are so many more girls out there.”

cvogel@buffnews.com

More than 18,000 poor Buffalo children grow up without fathers : Children of Poverty : The Buffalo News.

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