Children & Families

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Focus on Fathers: Many welfare-reform efforts focus on single mothers, but a recent study shows that targeting unemployed, noncustodial fathers also can improve the lives of children on welfare.

The study, by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corp. in New York City, involved 5,000 fathers who were unemployed and behind on their child-support payments. About half were assigned to Parents' Fair Share, a demonstration program in seven cities, from 1994 to 1997. The remainder served as the control group.

In three of the sites, fathers involved in the program's special case review, which was conducted even before the fathers entered the program, made more payments than those targeted by standard child-support-enforcement programs.

Their child-support payments increased by up to $200 during an 18-month follow-up period.

The program--which was coordinated by the MDRC but also involved a partnership of federal agencies and private foundations--provided job training, mediation between the fathers and mothers, assistance in looking for work, and peer-support groups.

The researchers also focused on other aspects of the fathers' lives. They found that about half the fathers had not graduated from high school, nearly 70 percent had been arrested as adults on charges unrelated to child support, and most had held only short-term, low-wage jobs.

Some were homeless or depended on friends for a place to stay.

While most of the fathers tried to maintain contact with their children and provide some support, poor relationships with the children's mothers often stood in the way.

The researchers also found that while child-support payments increased, the employment rates and income of the fathers in Parents' Fair Share did not improve.

The study's findings can serve as a guide to states as policymakers design programs for noncustodial parents, said Fred Doolittle, the lead author of the study and a vice president and assistant director of research at the MDRC. Such programs should include parenting education and an array of employment and training services.

The report, "Building Opportunities, Enforcing Obligations: Implementation and Interim Impacts of Parents' Fair Share," will be available by the end of the month for $12, plus $3.50 for postage and handling, from the MDRC, 16 E. 34th St., New York, NY 10016; (212) 532-3200. Two more reports on the fathers in the study are scheduled for release next year.

--Linda Jacobson [email protected].

Vol. 18, Issue 15, Page 12

Published in Print: November 25, 1998, as Children & Families

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