Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fathers Rights explored at state symposium

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Speakers at an annual symposium on fathers’ rights hosted by the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood (ICRF) agreed Saturday, Dec. 17, that fathers need to assert their rights especially in cases involving child custody.

The annual symposium was held at the Oak Park Library and featured a series of guest speakers including Dr. Leon Intrater, Lois Rakov, Dr. William Martin, Attorney Joseph Sparacino, Attorney Maureen Gorman, and Justin Wooley.

The council is chaired and organized by noted custody attorney Jeffery M. Leving who welcomed guests and speakers and explained that the purpose of the ICRF is to do everything to insure that children have an involved father in their lives.

“One third of all children born in Illinois are born out of wedlock and many won’t know their father,” Leving told the gathering.

“The Safe Haven Law, which allows mothers to abandon their newborn children without responsibility, does not require those mothers to notify the fathers of their actions. Children that are father-absent are more likely to engage in crime and develop behavioral disorders. We recognize that a father’s absence can have a terrible impact on our children and that is the key focus of this government body.”

Intrater, whose firm Intrater & Associates provides professional psychosocial services for youth and adults, said that a key challenge that fathers face in custody cases is “parental alienation.”

“The Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) is the act of influencing a child or children against one of the parents. PAS, however, is often not considered a valid diagnosis in mental disorders. Most psychologists look at any behavior of a parent or by others to create a separation, physical, cognitive or emotional against one of the parents as being serious,” Intrater said.

Intrater explained that the PAS can take many forms from aggressive lobbying by one parent to negatively portray the other parent to their children to the point where children are influenced to “fear” the parent, thereby influencing the custody decision.

“The court orders on these circumstances don't address the subtleties that are sometimes created but that have huge consequences that create alienation among children against one of the parents,” Intrater said.

“Loyalty conflicts are created.... It is often seen in children associated with PAS. Children are made to feel that if they say something that contradicts the mother's view, they will be punished.”

Intrater said that many children are often totally alienated against the father by the mother and that alienation will often obscure the clearly questionable actions of conduct of the mother.

He said that recognizing PAS can help bring balance to the lives of children in custody battles. But, Intrater said, there is not enough advocacy in this area of parental rights.

Rakov told the symposium that the state offers many resources for both fathers and mothers. She said the stereotype for many years was that parental involvement was only defined as the mother’s involvement and the involvement of fathers was not sought.

“We are seeing more and more resources being made available to fathers and fathers organizations on this concern,” Rakov said. She said that it also helps when grandparents also get involved as long as the priority concern is “the best interests of the children.”

Martin, a professor at Chicago State University and the author of several books on parenting, said society has always recognized mothers as single parents, but he said there is a growing population of single fathers.

“Many fathers are single fathers. They have a child but don’t live with the mother. It’s a growing population. In 1998, 1 in 6 fathers were single fathers. Today, it is 1 in 5,” Martin said.

Martin said that single fathers need support to help them recognize issues that their children face.

“Fathers need outside help and a strong support system that is different from moms.... A lot of fathers don’t know how to get kids into pre-school or into schools,” Martin said. “Education is important and something that we need to look at more closely.”

Wooley, who is the program coordinator with Haymarket, one of the largest centers for substance abuse treatment, said both fathers and mothers need support services.

“We do a lot of work with fathers,” Wooley said. “We try to insure we are addressing fatherhood in a responsible way when we take a look at the skills that they have.”

Wooley said that the needs of fathers have been overlooked in the past.

“We must assist them in rebuilding their families and their lives and to make sure the fathers have the necessary support to be the responsible fathers that they can be,” Wooley said.
For more information on the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood, visit their web site at www.ResponsibleFatherhood.Illinois.Gov.

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