Wisconsin legislators may take up a controversial bill that would establish single parenthood as a factor contributing to child abuse and neglect.

The Senate Committee on Public Health, Human Services and Revenue scheduled a vote Friday on a bill authored by Assistant State Majority Leader Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, requiring the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board of Wisconsin to emphasize non-marital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.

CANPB, also known as the Children’s Trust Fund, is a governor-appointed board focused on reducing child maltreatment through public education and recommendations to the state government, Children’s Trust Fund Associate Director Jennifer Jones said.

If passed, the bill would require CANPB to emphasize non-marital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect during statewide educational and public awareness campaigns as well as when distributing information about the problems and methods of preventing child abuse and when providing informational materials to organizations that receive grants from CANPB.

Children living with two married, biological parents have the lowest rate of abuse and neglect, according to the United States Department of Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.

Conversely, children living with a parent and unmarried partner have more than eight times the incidence of maltreatment than those living with two married biological parents, the report said.

While single parenthood is a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect, other issues put children at risk for maltreatment, Jones said. These include parental substance abuse, mental health concerns, domestic violence, teen parenthood, low maternal education, parental history of child maltreatment, poverty and unemployment, according to research complied by the Children’s Trust Fund.

“It’s important to understand all of these risk factors for child maltreatment in order to create sound policy solutions that prevent child abuse and neglect,” Jones said.

Lisa Subeck, program manager, family advocate and Hope House coordinator at Dane County Parent Council Head Start, said she feels the bill was written to dictate personal choices rather than to help prevent child abuse. She said the wording of the bill is “non-marital parenthood,” which does not just encompass single parents.

It also pertains to two parent families living together and same-sex couples that are not granted marital status, Subeck said.

“Sen. Grothman is inserting government into what should be a very personal decision,” said Subeck, who is also the District 1 alder.

With respect to child abuse and neglect, family type has far less impact than the family process within each household, Human Development and Family Studies Professor Dave Riley said in an email to The Badger Herald.

In maltreating families, there tends to be frequent adult-to-adult violence regardless of if it’s a one- or two-parent household, he said.

“Research has found that leaving a conflictual marriage actually improves parent-child relationships, particularly if the co-parents get along better after separating,” Riley said. “Regardless of what kind of family you live in, the important thing is the quality of the relationships within that family.”

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