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Commission members seek public comments on role of fathers

For the past year or so, a group of experts have traveled Florida discussing ways the public and private sectors can help fathers become more involved with their families.

Five members of that group, called the Commission on Responsible Fatherhood, will be in Ocala next week to discuss the commission's findings and to hear comments from local people.

"This is the kind of work that has been too long left undone," said Charlie Peters, the commission's chairman, in prepared remarks. "We must find ways in our institutions, laws and cultural expectations to restore the essential role of fathers in the family."

Peters, Ocala MAD DADS leader Patrick Hadley and three other commission members will be in town for the meeting, scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday at the Marion County Health Department, 1801 SE 32nd Ave.

The Legislature created the commission last year and asked it to make recommendations on how to strengthen families. Some of those recommendations _ especially relating to divorce cases _ already are taking shape. Last month, when meeting in Tampa, the commission voted to recommend that when a custodial parent decides to move, she or he must prove that the move would be in the children's best interest, not just the parent's.

The commission also wants legislators to formally discourage women from falsely accusing their former husbands of child abuse. Many fathers have testified that such false claims have prevented otherwise worthy fathers from being involved with their children.

Many social service experts and family advocates say it is important for children to have a father in their lives. The Florida Family Council, with support from the state Department of Juvenile Justice, recently interviewed 742 juvenile offenders staying in juvenile detention facilities throughout Florida. Of those surveyed, 72 percent said their parents are not married, and 62 percent said their fathers lived at home either "sometimes" or "never."

A father's presence also is crucial to the family's financial well-being, statistics show. The Central Healthy Start Plan for 1995-97, says almost 61 percent of the Citrus women who lead their households _ and have children 5 or younger in the house _ live below the poverty level, the report said. The state average is 54 percent.

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.

If you go

WHAT: Florida Commission on Responsible Fatherhood.

WHEN: 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday.

WHERE: Marion County Health Department, 1801 SE 32nd Ave., Ocala.

INFORMATION: Comments from 11 a.m. to noon. Call (352) 629-0137.