Posts tagged ‘illinois council on responsible fatherhood’

Fathers Hold Key to Communicating with Troubled Teens

by: Jeffery M. Leving

Hilda Franco and the Chicago Freedom School have developed a program promoting outreach to children and teens caught in the crossfire of violence plaguing Chicago Public Schools. I applaud her initiative and agree that active communication with these children is a positive move in the right direction, but I would like to challenge Herald News readers to take this idea one step further.

As Chairman of the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood (ICRF- http://responsiblefatherhood.com), I believe the best way to reach these teens is to teach their fathers how to communicate with their children. In the Riverdale neighborhood where Derrion Albert grew up, nearly 80% of households with children do not have a father present. Research shows that fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school, consistently score lower than average in reading and math, and are eleven times more likely to exhibit violent behavior. There are gender and economic barriers that must be overcome or these fathers will continue to be kicked to the curb. We need to go into this community to empower and educate these men on the importance of being actively involved in their children’s lives. We need to make sure that all fathers in all communities know that they have the legal right to request custody and visitation of their children regardless of their financial situation.

Incarcerated fathers are also victimized by the denial of equal protection. We need to go into the prison systems and give incarcerated fathers the same resources available to incarcerated mothers to help them parent their children both in and out of prison. While Illinois has a program in place giving incarcerated mothers access to their children through virtual visitation (ie: video conferencing), the same option is not provided to fathers. I co-authored the Illinois law giving judges the ability to award virtual visitation to non-custodial parents. Now that this law is in place, let’s implement a virtual visitation program for fathers through the Illinois Department of Corrections focused on the best interest of the child. As the goal, incarcerated fathers remain in contact with their children. Furthermore, during my visit to the Decatur Correctional Center, I learned that incarcerated mothers not only have access to virtual visitation with their children, but are also allowed to live with their babies in prison. The lack of similar programs for fathers is nothing short of institutionalized gender preference showing what little value our society places on the importance of paternal love and bonding.  This bias being perpetuated in our prisons not only illustrates the obstacles in place for fathers wanting relationships with their children, it tramples equal protection safeguards.

Until fathers and children everywhere engage in positive relationships, other proposed remedies to safeguard children from violence are just a band-aid on a gaping wound. As a community, we all need to actively search for a solution to this ongoing violence. I agree that giving teens a forum to express themselves to caring adults is invaluable and ICRF is committed to ensuring that every father in Illinois has the knowledge and resources to be there for their kids when they are needed most. But, we must never forget that any man’s loss of his child is a loss for us all.

Jeffery M. Leving

Chairman

Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood

November 18, 2009 at 6:23 pm Leave a comment

Illinois Virtual Visitation for Incarcerated Fathers

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by Jeffery M. Leving

A non-violent felony conviction has landed Juan behind bars for the next three years. As Juan is trying to adjust to prison life, his young son is trying to adjust to life without a father. Juan, like countless numbers of inmates in Illinois, is locked up in a correctional facility far from where his elderly mother, wife and son live. The high cost of transportation and related expenses make regular visitation unaffordable for the impoverished family.

Every time someone breaks the law, there are victims. While the system tries to bring justice to those victimized, new victims are created.  The plight of the incarcerated fathers may not evoke sympathy in many people.  However, I must point out that the grief and suffering of their children are exacerbated by a correctional system that is ill-equipped to address the pain of losing their fathers.

Research has shown that children whose parents have been incarcerated “experience anger, anxiety, inability to concentrate, depression, preoccupation with their loss, sadness, grief, shame and fear following the incarceration.” However, children who often visit their incarcerated parents and do so under favorable conditions “exhibit fewer adjustment problems.” As for the prisoners, those who maintain strong family ties behave better during incarceration, re-enter society with better success, and have a lower rate of recidivism.

Many correctional facilities in Illinois are remotely located from the Chicago population. The sheer distance discourages many families from visiting their relatives in prison. The high costs of transportation, food and lodging, not to mention the substantial amount of time involved, are additional inhibiting factors. Most importantly, however, the prison can be an inimical environment for children so that a visit there may be traumatic. As a result, many families opt for telephone contact. Unfortunately, telephone contact is totally unsatisfactory. Not only is it expensive for the families because all calls from prison must be collect calls, but also frustrating to the children because they do not  see their parents.

Virtual Visitation for Incarcerated Fathers

For years, I have been warning of the damage done to children who grow up without contact with their fathers. Due to the large population of incarcerated fathers in Illinois, many children are growing up fatherless. Extensive research has shown that children whose fathers are involved in their lives perform better in school, complete more years of schooling, have fewer behavioral problems, have better cognitive and psychological development, experience less poverty, are less likely to drink and use drugs,  and have better self-control.

As the chairman of the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood and as a fathers’ rights advocate, I have been pushing for the creation of a virtual visitation program for incarcerated fathers in Illinois. This program will enable children to interact with their incarcerated fathers via real-time video and audio conferencing, eliminating the problems associated with traveling to and visiting the prison. Instead, visits can be scheduled in a child-friendly environment – with toys and appropriate furnishings and decorations.

I have co-authored an amendment to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act to provide for reasonable visitation between a child and a non-custodial parent through electronic communication including video conferencing. This bill (SB1590) is awaiting a decision at the Illinois State Senate, and would give legal support to the virtual visitation program for incarcerated fathers that I advocate.

Virtual visitation with inmates is not a new concept. The pioneer seems to have been the State of Pennsylvania, where a program began in 2001. The Pennsylvania Family Virtual Visitation, created by The Prison Society in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, provides high-tech video conferencing equipment that allows families to visit in “real time” with their loved ones who are incarcerated. For a small fee of $20, families can schedule a 55-minute visit once a month. According to The Prison Society, inmates, family members, and prison staff have expressed their support for and appreciation of this program. Correctional officers have reported that many inmates are better adjusted and seem happier after virtual visits. Virtual visitors express how important and meaningful the program is to the health and welfare of their families.

In Florida, there is a program called Reading and Family Ties, which allows incarcerated mothers to read stories to their children using live video via the Internet. The program has been credited with enhancing family unity, easing inmates’ transition back to society and improving literacy for both parents and children.

In Illinois, we, too, have had success with a pilot program for incarcerated mothers, but none for fathers. Through this incarcerated mother program, which was created through the partnership between the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Women’s Treatment Center, staff are available to the families prior to, during and after each visit to address their needs, and to ensure that the visit is child-focused.

A subsidiary benefit of virtual visitation for incarcerated fathers is the rehabilitation of the father, but the most cogent reason for implementing this program is the welfare of the child. It is past the time for Illinois to enact a law and establish a program that help the tens of thousands of children have a relationship with their incarcerated fathers.

March 31, 2009 at 3:49 pm Leave a comment

Absent Fathers & Youth Violence

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More kids have died in Chicago between September 2007 and August 2008 than servicemen and women from Illinois during the same period in Iraq. A recent survey estimates the greatest fear Chicago schoolchildren have is “getting shot.”

Government officials, educators, and community activists debate continuously over the causes of the explosion of youth violence in Chicago — gangs, drugs, guns, poor school funding, etc. While all of those factors certainly contribute to the rising statistics on youth violence, the largest contributing factor that continually gets overlooked is absent fathers.

Studies show that school systems with above-average rates of father absence have nearly double the rates of school violence compared to those with below-average rates of father absence. Children who do not live with both parents are also more likely to carry a gun, assault another student and assault a teacher. To put it simply, father absence is the single strongest predictor that a child will grow up to be violent or fall victim to violence.

When male youths do not have a father figure in their lives, they often join gangs to fill that emptiness and look to gang leaders to fill that “fatherless” void in their lives. There is a critical connection between a father’s absence, juvenile delinquency and anti-social aggression in our youths. The likelihood that a male will engage in criminal activity doubles when he is raised without a dad. In fact, 72 percent of adolescents charged with murder grew up without their father (Characteristics of Adolescents Charged with Homicide, 1987).

Boys who grow up in broken marriages are more than twice as likely as other young males to end up in jail and each year spent without a father in the home increases the likelihood of future incarceration by 5 percent (Father Absence and Youth Incarceration, 1999).

Delinquency and crime are among the many damaging effects created by father absence. The solution to stopping the continued slaughter of Chicago children is to stop kicking fathers to the curb. Fathers who are not involved in their children’s lives need to step up to the plate and start building a solid lasting relationship with them.

But there are also millions of great dad’s out there in America that are being pushed out of their children’s lives. Gender bias and parental alienation are preventing many good fathers from getting involved in their children’s lives.

The solution to youth violence must begin with reuniting fathers with their children. Until this happens, every other measure that is taken is like putting a band-aid on a wound. We have to restore fatherhood as a societal norm in our community. It is an inalienable right for children to walk to school each day, play on the playground, ride their bikes on the street and not fear for their lives.

The Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood is issuing a call-to-action for all parents and concerned community leaders to make a commitment to restoring responsible fatherhood in our community. We have to come together to protect the future of our youth. For more free information, visit http://www.responsiblefatherhood.com.

Jeffery M. Leving of Chicago is the author of “Divorce Wars” and the Chairman of the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood.

March 5, 2009 at 9:46 pm 1 comment

Investigating Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS)

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About ten years ago I received a call from a well known attorney representing a father in a paternity case. The attorney asked me to conduct surveillance at Mc Donald’s during a custody exchange. The father was picking up his children for weekend visitation. He told me he wanted me to observe any interaction the parents had with the children and to make special note of the children’s body language and expressions.

I arrived at the Mc Donald’s early and found a good seat that would enable me to observe all the parties involved. Shortly after the scheduled time, the mother arrived with the children. She pulled in the parking lot, parked, got out, and retrieved the two boys ages seven and nine from the backseat. My first observation was made as the mother and boys began to approach the restaurant. The mother appeared to be using her hands and body to shield the boys as if they were approaching a dangerous situation. When they entered the Mc Donald’s the children were trying to see their father. They were obviously much shorter than their mother but couldn’t seem to get past her. The father was waving from across the restaurant. The older son saw him, smiled, and began to wave back. As soon as he started to wave, the mother grabbed him by the back of his coat, pulled him towards her, and got down on one knee. She shook her finger in his face as if she were scolding him. He lowered his chin to his chest and became flush. Both boys then proceeded to meekly approach their father being careful to stay behind their mother. When the mother was approximately twenty feet from the father she began to yell at him. Several patrons in the area appeared to be uncomfortable and one of the cashiers stopped taking an order to see what the commotion was all about. The entire restaurant seemed to stop for a moment. The mother told the father that she had to force the children to come with her because they were afraid to see him. The boys continued to keep their heads down and continued to do so until the mother exited the restaurant. The mother made several comments about the father not loving the children, being a deadbeat, and not caring about them. The father, to his credit, remained calm and stoic. The mother not getting the response she desired from the father then addressed the children. Every time she would refer to the father she would say in a contemptuous tone, “your father”. She would say the word “father” as if it was a curse word. When the mother finally left the restaurant the children seemed to take on new identities. It was obvious to everyone watching that the children were in fact happy to see their father but were frightened of their mother. They were visibly happy, excited, comfortable, and relaxed around their father.

I immediately returned to my client’s office and reported on my somewhat alarming observations. The attorney was satisfied with my report and asked me to wait as he contacted a forensic psychiatrist. He put the doctor on speakerphone and asked me to repeat what I had just told him. After I finished explaining the events of the day, the forensic psychiatrist said, “Well, that confirms our fears”. After he hung up the phone the attorney explained to me that I had just witnessed first hand Parental Alienation Syndrome or PAS. The attorney explained he did not want to tell me about PAS prior to the investigation because he wanted me to approach the situation without creating potential bias in my observations. At the time of the surveillance, I didn’t realize that what I was witnessing was PAS first hand. Today I use the videotape of this event to show investigators I train some of the signs of PAS.

I recently attended a symposium sponsored by the Illinois Council on Responsible Fatherhood. One of the speakers at the symposium was a friend and colleague of mine Dr. Leon Intrater. Dr. Intrater discussed the issue of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). Over the years I have worked on many cases where PAS was prevalent and been given the arduous task of proving PAS exists. While it is not the investigators role to make a psychiatric evaluation of any type, documenting the parent’s actions and interaction with the child can be valuable to a psychiatrist and the court.

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was discovered by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Richard A. Gardner and has emerged as an expert in dealing with the issue.

Gardner defines PAS as:

“The parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that arises primarily in the context of child-custody disputes. Its primary manifestation is the child’s campaign of denigration against a parent, a campaign that has no justification. It results from the combination of a programming (brainwashing) parent’s indoctrinations and the child’s own contributions to the vilification of the target parent.”

While PAS is manifested in several ways some of the more commonly cited examples are; bad mouthing the other parent in front of the children, withholding visits, and determining activities for the children while visiting with the other parent.

As the above investigation demonstrates, documenting the parents interaction with the children can provide evidence of PAS and ultimately may be used by a psychiatrist in the development of his/her opinion.

When a parent calls a child at a prearranged or court ordered time and is told on a regular basis that the child is not home, unavailable, or ill, an investigator may be able to determine if this is true or not. If the time of the call is documented and the child can be videotaped or otherwise proven to be not ill or in fact, playing in the front yard, at a neighbor’s house, or at baseball practice, this information can prove to be valuable. Additionally, when parenting time is canceled because, “an emergency came up”, the investigator can be called upon to document the truth. This may support the premise put forth or contradict it completely. The investigation will reveal the child’s true activities.

In many cases, a parent may be going to great extents to exclude the other from knowledge of and involvement in the child’s activities such as school sports, extracurricular activities, school activities and field trips. An investigator can obtain this evidence through the school, other parties, or surveillance. If this information is withheld from the parent being targeted this may be evidence of PAS.

Surveillance may also uncover medical, dental, or other important appointments which the other parent should have been notified of but was not. In some cases the targeted parent will find out about doctor appointments after the fact and unfortunately the only reason it is finally disclosed is for monetary purposes.

Claims made by one parent to the court that the other parent has strangers spending the night or leaves the child alone may also be either contradicted or supported through the use of surveillance.

While individually these events may not seem significant, a pattern of this type of alienation may be of interest to a Psychiatrist or Judge.

Investigating PAS may not be easy but an effective investigation can make a serious difference in the lives of parents and their children and prevent irreparable damage to their vital relationship.

March 4, 2009 at 7:44 pm Leave a comment


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