Are Single Parents The Cause of Child Abuse in Wisconsin?

Deanna Ogle examines a new bill in Wisconsin that would label single parents as child abusers.

A bill proposed in Wisconsin by Senator Glenn Grothman will target single parents by requiring the state’s Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board emphasize that nonmarital parenthood is a “contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.”

There are two ways that SB 507 could affect the citizens of Wisconsin. One is that it could open the door to helping struggling single parents through additional funding and services. However, the more devastating possibility is that it could label single parents as child abusers. This would mean that almost one-third of the entire state of Wisconsin would be labeled neglectful of their children.

Perhaps the amendment would provide funding to help keep married couples together and encourage people to get married, but that is still under the assumption that single parenthood is the reason for the prevalence of child abuse.

If this bill is simply to provide funding for struggling parents and fathers, why write the bill this way? Why not go about bringing in money in a way other than labeling good parents who are raising their children to be well-adjusted citizens as “neglectful”?

How would this affect single dads? We are finally reaching a point in society where “parenting” can mean a lot of different things, whether it is with two people, one person, opposite genders or the same gender. Men who are single parents work hard to raise their children the best that they can. Would emphasizing that single dads are neglecting their kids send us back to the dark ages?

Photo credit: Flickr / KellyB.

About Deanna Ogle

Deanna Ogle hails from the greater Detroit area and her work has appeared in The Good Men Project, The Printed Blog, and Provoketive Magazine. She is studying journalism and religious studies, and writes at her personal blog Soul like a Spider. Loves: carnations, iced espresso, and watching movies with her husband. Find her at Twitter, Google and Facebook.


  1. This is crap! Single women have raised children since the beginning of time and do a hell of a better job than most insecure married woman begging for attention from their spouse. This is just another way men as a gender are trying to keep us in the house. Try and take my children because I refuse to be with you this is BS of the highest nature.

    • I do have to take some offence to the comment “This is just another way men as a gender are trying to keep us in the house” because there have been increasing numbers of ‘at home dads” doing “a hell of a job” raising their kids, I being one of them and I must say, though you may find it odd, I was trying to keep my wife (now ex) out of the house!! because she was one of those “not cut out for parenting” types. As a single dad now for 3+ years my kids and I have been happier than we’ve been in a long time. Kids are doing great! Despite having a “single parent.”

  2. This is ridiculous, they should consult some survivors of child abuse.

    I think making divorce easier, and screening the parents to identify abuse, then putting the child with the non-abusive parent would be far more effective.

    But the legislation is not really about protecting children…..

  3. wellokaythen says:

    The assertion: Children of single parents are more at risk for abuse than children of married parents.

    We can actually test this. Let’s look at who child abusers tend to be. Do they tend to be people who have chosen to be single parents, significantly more than other parenting situations? Not sure that’s the case.

    Sorry, I don’t have the figures on this, but it’s safe to say “a whole lot” of child abusers are married people. Sometimes a husband or wife abuses the child and the other has to choose between spouse and child. Marriages that break up sometimes do so because one or both of the spouses are abusive, in which case becoming a single parent may REDUCE the chance of abuse instead of increase it. There are plenty of abusers who are stepdads and stepmoms. In those cases, getting married actually makes the children’s lives worse.

    Perhaps a child raised by a single parent is statistically at higher risk of abuse. Let’s say that’s true just for the sake of argument. First of all, it could be a correlation without a cause, i.e., people are more likely to leave abusive spouses than non-abusive spouses, so of course those kids are more likely to be abused. In those cases, abuse causes divorce, not divorce leads to abuse. Or in general the same factors that contribute to being a single parent also contribute to child abuse.

    Second of all, on the list of factors that contribute to abuse, how big is this one? Is this really a key difference between children who are abused and children who aren’t?

    I’ll agree on one point, though I don’t think the bill sponsor had this in mind: with two parents, if one is an abuser then the other has a chance to stop the abuse.

    • Megalodon says:

      The basic hypothesis is that a single parent will at some point invite and involve another person to cohabitate or participate in his/her domestic sphere (unless this single parent takes a vow of celibacy or keeps all sexual partners at arm’s length or can supervise the child at all times). This cohabitant person, whether it is a stepparent or live-in boyfriend or neighbor babysitter, will be in proximity to the child and have access to the child in the long term. Because this person is biologically unrelated to the child, it is thought that this person will have less affection for the child and will have less compunction about harming or abusing that child.

  4. People who have children out-of-wedlock have started abusing child from the very beginning by failing to provide a family setting to the child. Two parents biologically related to the child is the best family setting for a child.

    • Say what? Marriage does not make a family. Lots of people have children and live together as a family, biological parents and children, without every getting married. Getting married makes no difference to their status as a family, and makes no difference whatsoever to the children.

      • The difference between marriage and living-in is merely legal and form appropriate setting for children. But children born to those parents who are not committed or worse, when they even don’t really know each other well, are really deprived.

    • A sweeping assumption that is far from correct. Here’s a few people who were born into homes with both biological parents: Hitler (brutally beaten by his father); Mao Tse-Tung (also abused by his father); Stalin; Leopold II; Mussolini. These 5 men were responsible for the genocide (and subsequent related starvation deaths) of over 67 MILLION people. The greatest cause of single parenthood, worldwide (if we step out of our self-absorbed U.S. perspective) is still war! Not to mentioned the damaged parents that come back traumatized from war & take it out on their children. Time to lay off the average single parent just trying to get things done, and focus on more important issues.

  5. wellokaythen says:

    I guess the message is that if you’re a single parent you should find someone, anyone, to marry as soon as possible to get the state off your back. That doesn’t sound like very good idea….

    • Megalodon says:

      We know that marrying anyone as soon as possible will not get the state off their back. Family value traditionalists have never cared for things like blended families or step-parents. In the traditional view, such families are “damaged goods,” just like adopted children. This policy is about stigmatizing and pathologizing living arrangements that deviate from the nuclear family with two biological parents model.

  6. That Guy says:

    I’m not sure what “nonmarital parenthood” means. Does that mean anyone who’s single and raising a child? People are single parents for a LOT of different reasons. I read this as saying that widows and widowers would also be included.

    So, a mother who’s been widowed because her husband died fighting in Afghanistan is now an irresponsible mother, according to this bill? Then Wisconsin should not allow any parents in the state National Guard to be sent overseas, if the legislature wants to be consistent.

    So, as long the parents are married to each other, they can live permanently separated from each other, with one doing all the childrearing, and that’s totally different from being a single parent? Being married to each other is the magical difference?

    Shame on the single mother I know whose husband died of cancer. She is clearly irresponsible and a great danger to her children.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    In discussions like these, nobody says “all”.

  8. sharlet says:

    I missed the part in your statement that said “some”…………

  9. Richard Aubrey says:


    Who said “all” Wasn’t me. That’s a lame way to argue.

  10. sharlet says:

    What about the statistics regarding the number of parents that leave their relationship/marriage due to abuse- whether it be men, women; and whether it be physical and/or verbal/emotional abuse? Are they not breaking the cycle & setting a better example for their children?
    As a full-time single parent for over 11 years with a really great kid, I believe that education is the key to preventing abuse. Too many people look at old statistics on single parenting, which tend to focus on low-income, younger parents with minimal education. Take a look at the rest of the population who is now single parenting. With the divorce rate at 50% (not including those who didn’t marry in the first place) you can’t tell me that all these kids result in “unsatisfactory outcomes”. And it’s not a feminist issue either; it’s a PARENT issue. As an aware parent, there are plenty of married households in which I would not let my son spend the night because I don’t trust them to be reliable, safe or good examples. Stop trying to pigeonhole people; we are all individuals!

    • Megalodon says:

      “What about the statistics regarding the number of parents that leave their relationship/marriage due to abuse- whether it be men, women; and whether it be physical and/or verbal/emotional abuse? Are they not breaking the cycle & setting a better example for their children?”

      If they actually “break” the cycle, then yes, they would be setting a better example. However, many do not “break” the cycle even after they leave the original abusive relationship. Odds are, the departing parent and the children will be getting abused again. Only this time, the abuse will come from mom’s new boyfriend instead of coming from dad.

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    Key word: “contributing factor”. Could mean something, could mean nothing. Problem is, single parenting is statistically associated with less favorable outcomes, across SES categories.
    A mother, let us say, with a live-in boyfriend is a single parent. Unfortunately, non-bio father males livingn in the household are many, many times as likely to abuse or molest a kid as the bio fathers living in. So, in this case, “single parent” is clearly associated with problems.
    It is necessary, to protect certain memes, to conflate real biodads living in and live-in boyfriends. That way, we don’t blue-nose condemn the live-in boyfriend situation, and we condemn biodads equally–aren’t we all for equality.
    There are other reasons that single parenting is associated with unsatisfactory outcomes. Whether this bill calls single parents child abusers is another issue.

    Does look as if it would be a further incentive not to have a husband, though, doesn’t it?

    • A household with two adults is “single parenting”. Biological parents both living with their children is single parenting if the parents aren’t married? What a completely wacko and useless definition.

      To me, “single parenting” is when a single person lives with children.

      And, no – none of these situations are “child abuse”.

  12. I was a stay at home dad for over seven years with our two boys, and now a single dad for over three years, I am the author of a social/emotional learning book for kids and I consider myself the farthest from a neglectful parent one could get. And I think what the author of this post meant by parenting can mean “many different things” was that to “parent” does not necessarily mean the traditional “mommy/daddy” set-up anymore and that children are more commonly being raised by grandparents, 2 moms, 2 dads, 1 mom, or in my case 1 dad 50% of the time and 1 mom 50% of the time. Marriage does not a make someone a good parent! Wanting to be a good parent makes a good parent! In fact I believe i became an even more mindful parent after my marriage ended. In this particular case I disagree entirely that “sometimes addressing a very serious problem in a wrong way is better than not addressing it at all”, in fact that statement makes no sense, sorry.

  13. Anthony Zarat says:

    “We” are not “reaching” a point where parenting can mean “many different thigns”. Feminists have been fighting to equate parenting with motherhood for years.

    While this bill is not the correct way to stoop this outrage, sometimes addressing a very serious problem in a wrong way is better than not addressing it at all.

    • Deanna Ogle says:

      As someone else pointed out in an earlier comment, what I meant by “parenting can mean many different things” is that the definition of family is changing. Parenting doesn’t always mean one man and one woman in a heterosexual marriage. It could be two people who don’t get married. It could be one parent. It could be two mothers, or two fathers.


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