Government Involvement in the Family The pressing need for a return to the traditional two-parent family is prevalent throughout society. It is one of the most dominant issues in the world we live in today, and a source of worry to the government, but to what extent is the government responsible for bringing us back to the values that a traditional family has provided for children throughout the history of this country? There are three degrees of government involvement in the family; extended involvement, limited involvement and no involvement. Limited government involvement is the most effective form of government involvement for family reform. Excessive government interference, among other factors, has damaged the family, and is responsible for the erosion of the traditional family unit.
If the government were not involved with the family at all, this would present more harm than good for victims of abuse, neglect and abandonment. In fact, there are major concerns on the lack of Government and society’s intervention when it comes to child neglect and abuse. “In 1990, the United States Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect reported that ‘child maltreatment may still be the most under-researched social problem in America (Fulmer 645). Fulmer came to four major conclusions; Family violence is widespread. The full effect on society “has not been addressed”, or adequately studied or researched. There are too many variations in definition, data collection, and methods, which have resulted in confusion as to the severity of abuse and the effect it has on society. Funding for research, education, development, testing and evaluation is inadequate. (Fulmer 645). It is never an always or never situation when it comes to positive and negative results of Government intervention in family life. We must also keep in mind, the factor of child support and programs that aid in a broken family’s recovery from a divorce. This, and other issues that can’t be taken care of by the individual obviously need some kind of government intervention. Although an option for zero involvement does exist, in a democracy such as America, it would be impossible to defend, considering the effect it would have on human rights.
The extent of Government involvement from the eighties until now has resulted in bureaucratic red tape, and failed programs. During the Carter Administration, “the incidences of divorce and its primary complements, single-parent families and blended families of remarriage were increasing at a dramatic rate” (Seaburg 548). This is when the government started to take notice of the erosion of the nuclear family (i.e. mother, father, child). The Conference on Families was the high point for the issue of divorce and change in families in 1980. However, when the Reagan Administration took office, many programs were cut. The prevailing thought during this period was that many of these programs hindered families instead of stimulating them.
An example of government interference that has affected families negatively is the Aid to Families with Dependant Children (AFDC) program. The Bureau of the Census, 1995 indicates that the percentage of absent or separated husbands constitutes 17%, women widowed or divorced represent 23% and women who were never married make up 48% of recipients in the AFDC program. Married women make up13% of recipients in the program. Dobson, Engler, Ashcroft observed that many antagonists of this program have found that women became more inclined not to marry, and families split up in order to receive, or continue receiving AFDC benefits. Programs like this one have virtually encouraged dependency on the government and discouraged traditional marriage.
A second example of how the government’s involvement harms the traditional family institution is where married couples are penalized in the form of taxation. “A marriage ‘penalty’, or subsidy occurs when a change in marital status generates a change, negative or positive, in disposable income” (Alm, Dickert-Conlan, Whittington 194). For example, if two people making $40,000 a year file their taxes separately, and if a married couple making a combined income of the same amount file taxes together, the married couple winds up paying nearly $1500 more in taxes. This is an excellent example of how government involvement can harm families. Whether intentional or not, it sends a veiled message to married couples, that they are better off single when it comes to taxation.
Another example of governmental involvement that causes damage to marriages is the issue of no-fault divorces. Many states have adopted this one sided approach to divorce, and it has caused more harm than good, especially for the children involved in such divorces. John Engler, the previous Governor of Michigan states the following;
It is essential that our society rethink the no-fault divorce revolution. Over the past quarter-century, easy divorce laws have helped tear apart American families. As a society, it is time to refocus more on the needs of children and less on the desires of parents. We must make it harder for children to be victimized by a no-fault divorce system that gives all the legal clout to the party that wants to break the marriage.
We live in a society where getting a divorce is as easy, if not easier than obtaining a marriage license. This brings about some very negative effects in society. Children whose parents are divorced are more likely to drop out of school, or have a birth themselves, than those whose parents are together. They are also more likely to be poor as children. (MacLanahan and Sandefur 82). This is an area, though, where it might be beneficial for the government to intervene, for the child’s sake. We must be aware that the reason for government intervention on this issue is merely to reverse a huge mistake, which the judicial system allowed in the first place.
There are numerous other reasons why too much or no involvement is not an option considering government and families. Limited involvement on behalf of the government is required to protect individual rights. The program in the Boo article is not intrusive and it promotes healthy relationships for marriage. There are other programs that do not intrude on the family and support a two-parent family unit. Spending on the marriage promotion fund will reach an amount of only $300 million per year, and the government will, without a doubt, be extremely limited in the promotion of this program (Cherlin 22). This amount of funding is enough to limit Government intervention in families and aid in supporting marriage education and reform.
Former Governor John Engler states the following on limited involvement concerning the family;
It is essential that Washington acknowledge the limitations of government. It never has been, nor will it ever be, a substitute for the family. Family renewal must, in the end, come from within the family. Despite well-publicized divorce statistics, I am hopeful that our nation can slow down the forces of disintegration. The brisk sales of works like The Book of Virtues, the recognition that “Dan Quayle was right”, the growing impact of groups like Focus on the Family and Promise Keepers -- all these signs give me encouragement.
Society’s impact on divorce has also given rise to equal concern. Marriage in a Culture of Divorce says that experts on family have debated on whether or not we should view marriage and family life with optimism or with pessimism. “Optimist theorists have argued that families are not falling apart, but simply changing and adapting to new socio-economic conditions” (Riley, Scanzoni, Skolnick 1991). (Hackstaff. 200). They emphasize the oppression of women in marriage, and push for greater independence and sense of self. Working together as a community used to be the backbone of the American society. Now, experts in many fields, like the Sociologist optimists, have pushed selflessness out the window and promote selfishness. However, society needs to recognize that it should never receive information from groups that call themselves optimists, when what they are spreading is exactly the opposite of the definition of their names.
On the other side of the coin, we have the pessimistic theorists, who believe that the current divorce rates are in correlation with an “unraveling of social bonds” (Hackstaff 200). These are whom I like to call the realists. In their view, marriage represents the singular commitment that sustains inter-generational family relationships, especially parenthood. Indeed, several recent books have called for a return to the tradition of lifelong marriages, for the sake of the well being of children, who would be the leaders of the next generation. In reality and practice though, the pessimist and optimist theorists need to work together, along with psychologists and counselors, to help develop programs that support the growth of strong, healthy marriages and do not depend on government intervention.
If we step into our local High School with a Sociological outlook and ask ourselves questions like “what is different from when we were younger?” and “what is the difference from when our parents were at school age?” as an answer to these questions, we would find an overwhelming amount of evidence which points to the erosion of the traditional two-parent family. The look of confusion and disillusionment on the faces of these kids is disheartening. Another letdown is something the next generation cannot afford. Together, as a society, we should not allow this to happen. The government should be involved in issues that protect individuals and support pre-marital and marital counseling for those who cannot afford it. Government involvement at a minimal or moderate level is essential, but in the end, individuals, families, communities and society as a whole must take responsibility for their actions. It is essential that we all recognize the fact that children are the main victims when family values are unbalanced or eroded.
Alm, James; Dickert-Conlan, Stacy; Whittington, Leslie A. Policy Watch: The Marriage Penalty. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 13, No. 3. (Summer, 1999), 193-204.
Biblarz, Timothy. Power Point slides, USC Course Sociology 169; Changing family forms,
Bureau of the Census. Mothers Who Receive AFDC Payments- Fertility and Socioeconomic
Characteristics. Statistical Brief, March, 1995.
Cherlin, Andrew J. Should the Government Promote Marriage? Contexts; Fall 2003; 2, 4; Social
Science Module. 22-29.
Fulmer, Terry. Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 32, No. 5. (Sep., 2003), 645-646.
Hackstaff, Carla B. Marriage in a Culture of Divorce. 1999. Philadelphia; PA. Temple
University Press. 200-215
MacLanahan, S, S. and G. Sandefur. 1994. Growing up with a single parent: What Hurts, What
Helps. Cambridge, MA; Harvard University Press
Seaburg, James R. Family Policy Revisited: Are We There Yet?. Social Work, Vol. 35, No. 6. (Nov., 1990), 548-554.
Sen. John Ashcroft, David Blankenhorn, James Dobson, Gov. John Engler, William Galston,
Kay James, D. James Kennedy, Rep. Steve Largent, Dan Quayle, Paul Weyrich.Can
Government Save the Family? A symposium. Leland Stanford Junior University, 2007.