"Authorities say McEachern was baby-sitting Miranda Baca in June 2006 while her mother, McEachern's girlfriend at the time, was at work. Miranda was later taken to a hospital and died that day."
"Sean Finister of Franklin has been arrested and charged with child desertion and criminal abandonment. Finister is accused of leaving his eight month old daughter alone in a house without anyone there to care for her. A news release stated that the 21-year-old man was watching his daughter while the mother was at work."
"Prosecutors allege Raymore caused at least two severe blows to Asia's head while she was in his care. Raymore was watching the child while her mother, Lisa Mitchell was away at work."
"Tinkler told police in a statement that Zoe Sandercox, 3, hit her head in the bathtub at their 314 Fourth St. home while he was in the living room watching a nature show on the Discovery Channel. But a coroner's report filed in court states the child's injuries were inconsistent with a fall in a tub and ruled the girl died from internal injuries caused by either being kicked or punched in the abdomen. In his statement, Tinkler said the child's mother, Gloria Sandercox, had gone to work and he was watching Zoe and her four siblings."
"Criado said the children’s mother had gone to work earlier Friday morning, leaving the children asleep with their father, who had been up late the previous night. He said the father discovered his unresponsive daughter after being awakened by his son about 10:30 a.m."
Here we have five excerpts from recent news stories. All five involve children who were abused, neglected, or even killed. All five involve negligent or abusive fathers or caretaking boyfriends (father surrogates).
And it appears that all the dads or father surrogages were babysitting--not for 15 minutes or an hour or for just a few errands--but while the mother was at work, which might have been eight hours or more.
This suggests--though it isn't usually spelled out--that dad or the boyfriend was unemployed. Are unemployed male caretakers a special risk to chldren? As I have seen article after article about babysitting dads, working moms, and dead or injured children, I have started to wonder.
Certainly we find a lot of news articles about skyrocketing rates of child abuse and neglect due to "the economy"--though just how "the economy" translates into kids being abandoned or left with blunt force trauma to the head isn't explained.
We also hear that during the most recent recession, more men have lost their jobs than women, since job losses were concentrated in traditional male fields. The result is that in many families, dads or boyfriends have had to take on primary child care duties that many of them had never had before.
So there are lots of dots. Can we connect them?
It turns out that the literature on child abuse has already connected these dots; we don't need to reinvent the wheel. Let's take another look at an article we examined in a previous post,
"The Role of Fathers in Risk for Physical Child Abuse and Neglect: Possible Pathways and Unanswered Questions" by Neil B. Guteman and Yookyong Lee.
This is what Guteman and Lee have to say about the issue.
"Studies have reported that unemployed fathers are far more likely than employed fathers to physically abuse their children (Jones, 1990; Wolfner & Gelles, 1993). One study, using state-level aggregate data, found that states with higher proportions of nonworking fathers also report higher rates of maltreatment (Paxson & Waldfogel, 1999), although these researchers note that caution should be taken in generalizing such
findings to individual-level behaviors. Some researchers have hypothesized that unemployment
can lower the male breadwinner’s status within the family and that such loss in status might
provoke a father to attempt to reassert his authority by engaging in physically abusive and violent behaviors toward the child and/or other family members (e.g., Madge, 1983; Straus, 1974). Studies have reported that fathers who have sustained heavy financial losses
tend to become more irritable, tense, and explosive, which in turn increases their tendency to become more punitive toward their children (cf. McLoyd, 1990). It may be that economic losses are perceived as stressful, especially in an uncontrollable way."
But are unemployed dads abusing just from economic stress per se, or because they have been thrust into the role of being primary caretakers, a role that many are just not ready for, either because of nature or nurture?
Again, from Guteman and Lee:
"In one of the first studies directly examining fathers’ involvement and child neglect
risk, Dubowitz et al. (2000) reported that fathers’ greater direct involvement with child care was positively linked with higher child neglect risk but that their involvement in other household domains was linked with lower child neglect risk."
Definitely something for working moms to keep in mind before they ask the unemployed dad or the boyfriend to "watch the kids" while they go to work. Maybe daycare or Grandma might work better. Or maybe we need to stop with the radical role reversal experiment and get some of these dads back to work and out of the proverbial nursery.
Jones, L. (1990). Unemployment and child abuse. Families in Society, 71(10), 579-588.
Wolfner, G. D., & Gelles, R. J. (1993). A profile of violence toward children: A national study. Child Abuse & Neglect, 17(2), 197-212.
Paxson, C., & Waldfogel, J. (1999). Parental resources and child abuse and neglect. Child Welfare, 89(2), 239-244.
Madge, N. (1983). Unemployment and its effects on children. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines, 24(2), 311-319.
Straus, M. A. (1974). Leveling, civility, and violence in the family. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 36(1), 13–29.
McLoyd, V. C. (1990). The impact of economic hardship on Black families and children: Psychological distress, parenting, and socioemotional development. Child Development, 61(2), 311-346.
Dubowitz, H., Black, M. M., Kerr, M. A., Starr, R. H., Jr., & Harrington, D. (2000). Fathers and child neglect. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 154(2), 135-141.