L.E.V.O.C. Family Services will host its second annual Single Parent’s Conference in an era when census records show that 68 percent of all African American babies are born to unmarried women.
About 300 people are expected to attend the conference that is scheduled to run from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Feb. 11 at Woodrow Wilson High School in Portsmouth. Experts will conduct workshops at the free seminar that is being sponsored by LEVOC Family Services, Clear Channel Radio, and the historic Truxton Civic League. Breakfast, lunch, and child care services will be provided. To register, please phone (757) 516.2552 “These figures seem to be escalating among African American females,” said Chloe E. Jones, director of LEVOC, which provides counseling and other related services. “We want people to know there is hope and help. Some single parents have never bought insurance. Some have never consulted many of the experts who will be at the conference.”
Experts will provide information about many issues including household budgets, family insurance, food banks, and infant care. Since studies show that single parents often feel overwhelmed or intimidated by large school systems, educators will teach participants how to understand the school system.
“We are pleased with the response so far,” Jones said. “People are calling us saying they would love to attend. Several social workers said they will send their staff there for in-training courses. High school guidance counselors have told me they are coming. We are pleased to be able to do it for free. Not a single (expert) has asked for a fee for their services.”
Within the past 50 years, the number of single parent families has increased. But records show that by 1995, something started to change. Between 1996 and 1999, the percentage of children in single-parent families stabilized at 29 percent, and it appears to have edged downward to 28 percent in 2000.
Three separate trends are driving the change. From 1996 to 2000, the number of children living with a never-married parent rose (from 10.6 percent to 11.0 percent), but this increase was outweighed by a drop (from 17.3 percent to 15.6 percent) in the share living with a divorced parent.The share living with a widowed parent remained constant, at 1.2 percent of all children. In numerical terms, the number of children living with never-married parents increased by 400,000.
But that was offset by a decline of 1 million kids living with divorced parents. The combination of these trends resulted in a smaller share of kids living with a single parent by 2000. People change living arrangements and children are benefitting, in other words. Still, 42 percent of children in female-headed families were poor in 1999, compared with 8 percent of children in married-couple families. The foundations that undergird single-family homes are as complex as the people who live in them.
But lower marriage rates among African Americans add up to only one paycheck going to a home. Moreover, Congress phased out the “marriage tax” to increase the per child tax credit to reduce financial stress on families under President George Bush.
So single parenting sounds complicated because it is a challenge. “The media makes it look so simple and easy,” Jones said. “Ultimately the people on TV in single parent families are actors. They put a happy ending at the end of the movie where people seem to have it all, and only a few problems. But the actors get to go home when the movie is over.
“I’ve talked to some single parents whose decisions were influenced by the media,” Jones continued. “They tried to identify with the story line. They wanted to be like Fantasia but they don’t have the resources she has as a single mother. She worked hard to get to where she is in life.
“So this conference will hopefully impact the lives of those who are involved in unreal realism about single parenting,” Jones said. “It will help single parents network. It will help them to develop daily living skills.”
The problem is not just a one-paycheck household, said Janet Talbot, in a Sept. 31, 1985 research paper titled, Assessing the Single Parent. Stress and psychosocial problems are in some single parent homes. “Guilt is a constant companion for some. The summer becomes a much more stressful period when children are out of school. Summer camps are not universally available because of cost. Single parent families are more likely to be renters. There is no capital for a down payment, no money for a mortgage, and there is much difficulty in getting credit. Low income earners are often forced to share living space. The housing situation is often unstable.”
That is where the black church can step in to lend a hand, said the Rev. Sidnee Dallas, associate pastor of Richmond’s Trinity Baptist Church, who is a keynote speaker at the single parent conference. ”A lot of the work we do is emotional,” said Dallas, who launched a single parents ministry at Trinity a few years back.
“Single parents are very busy,” Dallas said. “They may work two jobs, go to school, and they are not always able to give hugs, kisses, and support. So that is why I will use the Biblical character Hagar during my presentation. I feel the Lord is leading me to talk about Hagar who was the first single parent in the Bible. She was sent into the wilderness by Abraham to make it on her own. I will take that story and relate it to today.
“The point is God saw her suffering, heard her cry, even when she thought no one cared,” Dallas continued. “I always try to make the Bible practical and bring the characters to life today.” Said Dallas, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in public health, and a master’s in divinity.