News & Politics

NYC Anti-Teen Pregnancy Campaign Targets Deadbeat Dads With Text Message Games


The New York City Department of Social Services launched a new campaign last week, filling bus stops and subways across the five boroughs with a torrent of anti-teen pregnancy propaganda. One subway poster reads,” I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.” Another: “Honestly Mom … chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?”

It didn’t take long for the in-your-face scare tactics to draw serious heat. State Senator Liz Kreuger called it “a sort of a failed abstinence-only sex-ed curriculum on steroids” which is ” laser-focused on shaming already-struggling teen parents.” Planned Parenthood released a statement saying the campaign “stigmatizes teen parents and their children.” Yesterday, the New York Coalition for Reproductive Justice launched a “No Stigma! No Shame” initiative against the ads.

But in the midst of the outcry, another message embedded in the posters is worth another look: The city is calling out deadbeat dads — and increasing enforcement on them.

“Think being a TEEN PARENT won’t cost you? NY State Law requires a parent to pay child support until a child is 21.” Above the disclaimer, there’s a blonde, curly-haired infant next to a text box that reads, “Dad, you’ll be paying to support me for the next 20 years.” The Department of Social Service also rolled out a mobile phone game (text “Not Now” to 877877 to play), that focuses on the boy problem. Players choose to be Anaya or Louis, two teens who are dating and get pregnant (well, Anaya does). The game sends you a question, for example:

NYC: I’m rocking my new kicks, but I’m behind on child support. Should I work overtime to pay off child support or go out with friends? Text “Child” or “Friends”
ME: Friends
NYC: Got a warning letter from the gov’t. They said there’d be “legal consequences” if I don’t pay my debt. What should I do? Text “Ignore” or “Respond”

(Read more transcripts from the mobile phone game here).

According to the latest numbers U.S. Census Bureau in 2009, only 41.2 percent of custodial parents, usually mothers, receive the full amount of child support owed to them. Meanwhile, New York has been trying to clamp down on deadbeats. The city squeezed a record $731 million in child-support payments out of deadbeat parents in 2011, mostly through wage garnishment, and reports that child-support payments increased 53 percent over the course of the Bloomberg administration. The 2012 numbers have yet to be released.

What happens if you don’t man up and pay? The first time, you can be fined, be sentenced up to 6 months in prison, or both. When you haven’t paid for over two years, owe over $10,000, or have a subsequent offense, that fine is bumped up to $250,000 and the sentence to 2 years.

Recently, serious serial offenders in the NYC metro area have been locked up. Last month, Robert Sand, the “Most Wanted Deadbeat Parent” in the country (yes, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services keeps a most wanted list), who owed a whopping $1.2 million in child-support, pleaded guilty in federal court on Long Island and will spend the next four years behind bars. That followed another high-profile deadbeat case two months earlier, when Raihan Chowdhury, an anesthesiologist who lived in Brooklyn, was arrested for owing over $1 million in child support. In most cases, penalties consist of revoked driver’s licenses and professional licenses, damaged credit, fines, and blocks on passports. The Department of Social Services may be trying to get the message across with a game, but on the subject of child support, the city isn’t playing.

Archive Highlights