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Communities that Care about Parents (Part 1)
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Go to Caring about Parents home

Part 1: Challenges Facing Parents Today

Part 2: The Importance of Informal Support

Part 3: What You
Can Do


I. Challenges Facing Parents Today

Raising a child has never been an easy proposition. But today's pressures create special challenges unique for this generation of parents (Smith, Cudaback, Goddard and Myers-Walls, 1994).

Single Parenting. Increasing divorce rates have created special emotional and economic pressures for single-parent families. Single parents in today's society may be more isolated and perhaps more disillusioned than the single parents of the past. Increasing gaps between the haves and the have-nots in the U.S. have aggravated the disadvantage of single mothers. Children of single parents are now the poorest age group in the United States.

According to Beyond Rhetoric (1991a), the final report of the National Commission on Children, about 25 percent (more than sixteen million) of all children lived with only one parent in 1989, twice as many as in 1970. In addition to being poor, single-parent families can often be isolated from extended family and community support.

Mobility and employment. Mobility often separates parents from important sources of extended family support, the traditional helping network. Parental employment places a great strain on parent-child relationships. Parents may have to depend on other caregivers, for example, to set limits and provide guidance during their children's formative years.

Between 1970 and 1990, the proportion of mothers with children under age six who were working or looking for work outside their homes rose from 32 percent to 58 percent. Today, approximately 10.9 million children under six have mothers in the paid labor force (National Commission on Children, 1991a).

Unlike generations prior to the Baby Boom, today's mothers are likely to be employed some distance from the home and are less likely to have extended family close by to assume the responsibilities they are unable to handle on their own. About 95 percent of all fathers are employed.

Loss of community. Social trends as varied as school consolidation and desegregation, shopping mall construction, day care centers, and telephones have moved the primary social focus from the immediate neighborhood to the larger community or even the global village. No longer is it automatic that neighbors will even know each other, much less watch out for each other and serve as a support system.

One result is that people without flexible transportation or telephones may become isolated and alone. Robert Putnam (1995) describes a gradual disengagement and loss of connection that weakens the social fabric and increases our sense of isolation.

According to the National Extension Parent Education Model Report, children today also face pressures that translate into additional stress for parents.

Substance abuse. Although the proportion of adolescents who reported they had used alcohol in the past month decreased from 72 percent in 1980 to 57 percent in 1990, the rate remains unacceptably high (National Commission on Children, 1991b). An annual 1994 survey (reported in the Manhattan, KS Mercury) of 51,000 high school and eighth-grade youth in more than 400 schools found that fewer teenagers now see the peril in experimenting with cocaine and other illicit drugs. The researchers found that both marijuana and cigarette smoking increased from the previous year.

Juvenile offenders. Between 1977 and 1987, the number of young people held in correctional facilities on any given day jumped 25 percent, from just over 73,000 to 92,000. Participation in youth gangs is also escalating gang membership is closely related to delinquency and violence (National Commission on Children, 1991b, p. 227). In 1988 as many as 450,700 children were classified as runaways. An estimated 127,000 children were throwaways, children abandoned or thrown out of the home.

Teenage pregnancy. One million teenage girls become pregnant each year. Nearly half of them give birth. The proportion of teenage births that occur outside of marriage has increased steadily since the early 1970s (National Commission on Children, 1991a). The rate of births to single teens increased 16 percent nationally between 1985 and 1990 (American Humane Association, 1993). Children of teenage mothers are more likely than other children to perform poorly in school and to exhibit behavioral problems (Luster and Mittelstaedt, 1993.) During 1995, there were 3,545 births to unmarried teens in Kansas (Kansas Action for Children, 1997).

Adolescent suicide. During the 1960s and 1970s, the rate at which adolescents took their own lives doubled, from 3.6 to 7.2 deaths per 100,000. By 1986, it had increased another 30 percent, to 10.2 deaths per 100,000. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among adolescents after accidents. Eight times as many young people attempt suicide unsuccessfully (National Commission on Children, 1991a).

Mental illness. An estimated 12 to 15 percent of all children suffer from mental disorders; approximately 10 percent have received treatment in the past year (National Commission on Children, 1991a). Nearly 500,000 American children now live in hospitals, detention facilities, and foster homes. That number is expected to climb to more than 840,000 by 1995 (House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, 1989).

Child abuse. The United States Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect concluded in its 1990 Executive Summary that child abuse in the United States represents a national emergency. In 1974, 60,000 cases of child abuse and neglect were reported. By the late 1980s, this number had increased to 2.4 million per year. During 1995, there were 3,662 child abuse cases reported in Kansas (Kansas Action for Children, 1997).

Reports of abuse and neglect in 1992 represent a 132 percent increase in the last decade (American Humane Association, 1993). Much of the increase is due to growing public awareness of child abuse and the establishment of mandatory reporting laws, but the limited availability of prevention services is also a contributing factor.

This is especially true in rural counties where inaccessibility and lack of facilities perpetuates the level of isolation experienced by families (National Center on Child Abuse Prevention Research, 1990, p. 5). Children who have been abused or neglected are 53 percent more likely to be arrested as juveniles, 38 percent more likely to be arrested as adults, and 38 percent more likely to commit a violent crime (Widom, 1992).

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Author Informationhttp://www.ksu.edu/wwparent/programs/care/pub1.htm--Revised: August 14, 1999
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