New Paternity Numbers Show Growth in Responsible Fatherhood

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HHS News Release

New data from the Department of Health and Human Services show that the number of fathers taking responsibility for their children by establishing paternity has tripled since 1992. Vice President Gore will discuss these numbers and the importance of father involvement on Monday at the eighth annual Family Reunion Conference.

Nearly 1.5 million men acknowledged paternity in 1998, an increase of 12 percent in one year alone and three times as many as in 1992. Acknowledging paternity is a crucial first step to increasing fathers' involvement in their children's lives and is essential to ensuring children receive the financial and emotional support they need. Legal establishment of paternity is required to enforce a child support order, provide children with access to health care under their father's health plan, provide rights of inheritance to social security benefits, and to establish a father's access and visitation rights. It also provides a child with the benefit of knowing his or her father, an opportunity for extended family ties, and access to medical history and genetic information.

This dramatic increase in paternity establishment is due in large part to the success of an Administration proposal enacted into law in the 1993 budget, which requires hospitals to provide new parents with the opportunity to establish paternity on site. The 1996 welfare reform law expanded the voluntary in-hospital paternity establishment program and also streamlined the legal process for paternity establishment. In 1998, 40 percent, or 614,000, of all paternities were established through in-hospital paternity programs. The figures released today follow earlier data which show that child support collections have increased by 80 percent during this Administration, to a record $14.4 billion in 1998, and that the out-of-wedlock birth rate has declined by six percent from its peak in 1994.

The Clinton/Gore Administration has worked hard to strengthen the role of fathers in their children's lives. Five years ago, the Vice President began meeting with fatherhood groups around the country, and at his and his wife's third annual Family Reunion Conference he challenged men to become actively involved in their children's lives and to provide emotional as well as financial support. Recognizing that much of the work around fatherhood takes place at the community level, the Vice President launched a Father to Father initiative, which brings together fathers, local communities and agencies to help support and strengthen the role of men in children's lives.

In 1995, the President called on federal agencies to incorporate fathers into their programs, research, and family-friendly workplace policies. Last June, the Vice President released the first report on fathers from the Federal Interagency Forum for Child and Family Statistics, documenting that the well-being of children is enhanced by the presence of caring and involved fathers and that father absence can have lasting detrimental effects on children's lives. Specifically, the report found that children growing up without a father are more likely to do poorly in school, to get in trouble with the law, and to have a hard time getting and keeping a job.

A critical next step in promoting responsible fatherhood is to reauthorize the Department of Labor's Welfare-to-Work program which will help more low-income fathers in every state raise their employment and earnings, increase their child support, and become more involved with their children. Ensuring fathers work and pay child support so their children don't stay on welfare is essential both to welfare reform and to the well-being of these families. The Welfare-to-Work program provides grants to states, local workforce boards, and community and faith-based organizations to help long-term welfare recipients and some non-custodial fathers of children on welfare get and keep jobs. Several states, and 20 community-based groups - including 12 competitive grantees announced by the Vice President last November -- are targeting their Welfare-to-Work funds to serve non-custodial fathers. The Administration's proposal, which is reflected in H.R. 1482 introduced by Congressman Cardin, would require every state to use a portion of their Welfare-to-Work funds to provide job placement and job retention services for fathers who sign personal responsibility contracts committing them to establish paternity, work and pay child support.

However, there is clearly more work to be done. According to a report released last week by a broad coalition of individuals concerned about the absence of fathers in the African American community, 40 percent of America's children go to bed at night in homes without fathers.

Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at http://www.hhs.gov/news.
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