Joe Lawler draws our attention to an article written by W. Bradford Wilcox, Executive Director of The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, concerning the correlation between cohabitation and child abuse.
Wilcox argues that children who raised in homes by a mother and a boyfriend are more likely to suffer physical, sexual and emotional abuse than children who are raised by married biological parents. He writes, “In other words, one of the most dangerous places for a child in America to find himself in is a home that includes an unrelated male boyfriend – especially when that boyfriend is left to care for a child by himself.”
To support his argument, Wilcox cites several studies including the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect which was submitted to Congress in January 2010 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Administration for Children & Families, Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation.
With all due respect to Wilcox he paints an incomplete picture. While it is true that the report concluded children were more suspectible to abuse in a household headed by a single parent with a cohabiting partner than with married biological parents it is far from the only factor contributing to child abuse. Indeed the HHS report also states that children are vulnerable to abuse if they live in households with low socioeconomic status, are in households with four or more children and if the perpetrator has trouble with alcohol/substance abuse as well as mental illness. Wilcox makes no mention of these and other factors. He leaves one with the impression that a child who lives with his mother and boyfriend is in imminent danger and can only be saved if his caregivers exchange vows.
So let’s say you have a household where a child is living with his mother and her boyfriend and the boyfriend physically abuses the child especially after consuming large quantities of alcohol. Does anyone honestly think the abuse will disappear if the boyfriend were to marry the child’s mother?
Those of you who are reading this post ought to understand from where I am coming. After I moved to Boston I took a job with the Child At-Risk Hotline which operates the after hours emergency service for the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families (then known as the Massachusetts Department of Social Services.) My job consisted mainly of taking reports of child abuse and neglect from both mandated and non-mandated reporters.
I probably wrote over a thousand of these reports during my time there. Some of the reports I took involved a mother and boyfriend while others involved married couples. Some of the reports I took involved poor families while some involved rich families. Some of the reports I took involved white families while some families were African-American, Hispanic or Asian or a combination thereof. While child abuse is more likely to occur in some families than in others one’s marital status, economic status or race does not immunize families from the ugliness of child abuse.
The suggestion that unmarried parents are the cause of child abuse in this country at the exclusion of all other factors is excessively simplistic. It not only unfairly paints unmarried parents with a broad brush but also trivializes the serious matter of child abuse.