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Research and Demonstration Projects on Paternity Establishment


Published: May 12, 1992

Dear Colleague:

Enclosed is the first of what we propose as a series of occasional papers on various subjects of interest in the field of child support enforcement. This paper presents a synopsis of research and demonstration projects related to paternity establishment. While it cannot cover all the work in the field it does include all OCSE-sponsored projects. We are attempting to present the information in an easily usable and digestible form, in the hopes that it will be useful to you in your daily work and perhaps inspire creative solutions to the problems presented by paternity establishment.

We will be issuing these papers periodically as time and research results permit. We would like to hear from you about additional topics that you feel might be of interest. We would also like to hear what you think of this initial effort.

Thanking you in advance for your comments,


Allie Page Matthews

Deputy Director

Office of Child Support Enforcement

Occasional Paper No. 1

Planning and Evaluation Branch

Division of Policy and Planning

Office of Child Support Enforcement

Administration for Children and


U. S. Department of Health and

Human Services


by Barbara C. Cleveland

Program Analyst

May 1992

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and should not be construed as representing the official position or policy of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, or any office therein.



What follows is a brief synopsis of some of the current issues in the area of paternity establishment. The contents are based on a review of research projects and demonstration programs designed to explore the problems and test proposed solutions in the area of paternity establishment.

In some instances, the practices in place at the time research data was collected or a demonstration was undertaken may already have changed as part of the ongoing evolution of the Child Support Enforcement Program. Nor is there necessarily universal agreement with the conclusions drawn from the research and the demonstration projects. In making this information available in a condensed form, it is our intent to simply highlight issues and stimulate creative approaches to problem-solving.

Statement of the Problem

According to the Census Bureau Survey on Child Support and Alimony: 1989, as of Spring of 1990, approximately 10.0 million mothers age 15 and over were living with their own children who were under 21 years of age and whose fathers were not living in the households. The poverty rate for all women with children from absent fathers was 32% in 1989. This means that 3.2 million women had incomes below the poverty level. The poverty rate for never-married women was 53.9% compared to a rate of 23.1% for ever-married women. The poverty status of women with less than a high school education was 59.1%. The poverty rate for women under 30 was 49.2%.

Almost 56% of women of all income levels receiving AFDC have never been married. Over one-half of the AFDC budget goes to families where the mother was a teenager when her first child was born.

Data from the National Center for Health Statistics indicate that 27% of total births were out-of-wedlock in 1989. This means that approximately one out of every four children in our society is born out of wedlock. Figures from the late 80's show that this phenomenon has become ingrained; there is an increase in both actual numbers and in the percentage of growth rate.

Early Child Support Enforcement Efforts

The legislative history of current paternity establishment efforts can be traced back to late 16th century Elizabethan Poor Law. As Marygold S. Melli has pointed out in A Brief History of the Legal Structure for Paternity Establishment in the United States, current paternity establishment efforts reflect an evolution from the bastardy actions of the early period, to quasi-criminal actions where only the mother or the State could petition for paternity establishment, to the present efforts to establish paternity by civil or administrative actions where a child or father may also petition for paternity. The primary motivation for these efforts has been the desire to conserve or recoup public funds although other less tangible benefits have also been sought.

The current child support enforcement program represents the latest effort on this continuum. It was established in 1975 as part of an effort to strengthen the family and control the soaring cost of welfare in the United States. From the beginning in 1975 until the middle 1980's, the program tended to focus primarily on enforcing existing orders in divorced and separated families.

The Child Support Amendments of 1984 were designed to stimulate better collections generally and, as part of this, included specific requirements with regard to paternity establishment - an area of growing concern. One provision mandated that State law must allow for the bringing of paternity actions any time prior to a child's eighteenth birthday (elimination of the short statute of limitations). Expedited process provisions helped the trend away from trials and court appearances for paternity establishment.

The amendments also changed the Federal Financial Participation formula by allowing States to deduct laboratory costs for paternity establishment from the expenditures used to compute cost effectiveness for incentive determinations. During this period, OCSE supported a grant to the American Association of Blood Banks to develop standards for laboratory testing for paternity, the Parentage Laboratory Testing Accreditation Program.

As the decade progressed, the focus began to shift to accommodate demographic changes and emphasize the issues surrounding unwed parenthood and teenage parenthood. No payments could be collected if the father was not known and, it was suggested, increasingly these fathers were younger and poor.

The Family Support Act of 1988 recognized these problems and what was regarded as poor performance by the States in paternity establishment. However, as will be shown below, this is not a simple problem solved by improved practices and performancestandards. Paternity establishment is surrounded by complex social and legal issues which must also be addressed.

Benefits of Paternity Establishment

Given the complexity of this problem and the obvious difficulty of pursuing paternity establishment, what are the benefits? The OCSE publication, Paternity Establishment(third edition, 1990) provides a number of answers. Establishing paternity is the first step toward a child support award which provides supplemental funds for the child and unmarried mother from the other responsible parent. This is an equitable situation and can promote family self-sufficiency. It also allows the child to benefit based on a standard of living provided by both parents. Immediate wage withholding can provide the child and mother with reliable consistent payments and medical insurance may be made part of an order. Should the absent parent cease to be employed, support payments may be withheld from unemployment compensation.

There are social entitlements as well. Paternity establishment can make the child eligible for Social Security benefits and for military benefits if the father is in the military. There are also potential worker's compensation benefits. Finally, there are clear emotional and psychological benefits to knowing who one's father is and to knowledge of family medical history.

1988 Family Support Act Provisions Designed to Improve Paternity Establishment in the OCSE Program

In order to deal with this growing problem and strengthen the OCSE program in the field of paternity establishment action was taken by both OCSE and the Congress. Audits and corrective action related to many failures in the location/paternity establishment area had a significant beneficial effect. Congress also acted by inserting a number of provisions in the 1988 Family Support Act. They called for changes in a number of areas.

First, States were encouraged to adopt simplified civil process and procedure in paternity establishment. The use of voluntary acknowledgement in non-contested cases and civil procedures in contested ones was suggested. Second, paternity establishment services were to be expanded by clarifying the 1984 amendments regarding the statute of limitations on paternity.

Third, performance standards were to be established. Goals for paternity establishment were to be developed based on baseline data with penalties for failure to meet these goals. Fourth, States were to adopt procedures which required all parties to submit togenetic testing upon request by any party in a contested case. Federal financial participation would be increased to pay 90% of the costs of this testing. States were allowed to charge fees for non-AFDC IV-D recipient testing. Fifth, other administrative changes were required concerning automated systems, specific time frames for processing cases, establishment of mandatory support guidelines, and mandatory immediate wage withholding.

Current Issues

A. Cost Effectiveness

Any discussion of paternity establishment efforts proceeds from the assumption that the pursuit of this objective is cost effective. While there has been some reluctance to accept this notion, the 1985 study conducted by the Center for Health and Social Services Research, Costs and Benefits of Paternity Establishment, showed that paternity cases begin to pay off within three years after case opening and that cost/benefit ratios continue to increase from this point.

While presenting the caution that a larger sample needed to be examined, this study indicated that a key to increased cost effectiveness was successful paternity establishment. It appeared that an increased emphasis on paternity establishment would result in greater cost effectiveness (higher gross collections and greater net benefits). The study also indicated that improving location efforts and confrontation increases establishment success and that case characteristics (age - younger - and relationship of parties involved - non-casual) affect establishment success. They suggested that this area be further explored (see Wattenberg below). Finally, the study found that paternity cases may pay as well as other cases, a finding which was compatible with concurrent GAO findings.

A demonstration project in Nebraska, the Nebraska Paternity Project, concluded in 1988, found that paternity establishment efforts are cost effective for the IV-D program when measured over the expected life of the order, even when the rate of establishment is relatively low.

B. Laws and Practices

An early (1984) exploratory study of paternity adjudications for teenage parents surveyed practices in Minnesota jurisdictions. Here Esther Wattenberg found that IV-D offices in 65 counties showed wide variations in methods and procedures used for contacting and interviewing adolescent fathers. It also showed that social services personnel serving unmarried mothers had incompleteand often incorrect information about paternity adjudications and were ambivalent about providing information.

A later (1988) demonstration project in Ohio attempted to test some best practices and suggestions for improvements in techniques for paternity establishment. The idea was to design and implement procedures to reduce the time required for and increase the rate of success in paternity establishment. There were two assumptions. One, the shorter the time period involved, the greater overall rate and probability of paternity establishment and; two, the less cumbersome the procedures, the more cooperation by the custodial parent and the putative father and thus the more likelihood of voluntary admissions of paternity.

A series of processes were implemented in this Ohio demonstration. These included an automated information and case management system, improved coordination over various phases of the establishment process, and measures to accelerate specific steps (joint interviews with the custodial parent and the alleged father, use of personal service, pre-docketing of cases once service was initiated). Implementation of these processes was to enable the agency to mount outreach efforts to encourage earlier paternity establishment and to put greater emphasis on voluntary stipulation and the use of advanced blood testing to expedite paternity establishment.

The Ohio staff viewed the new practices positively. The new tracking system enhanced capability and made for more effective case tracking and there was improved coordination especially in the movement of cases from initial processing by the child support enforcement agency to filing and docketing by the court. However, the study noted that insuring accurate and complete case documentation would require regular monitoring and training of staff and continued success in practices relating to the court would depend on the resources available to the court for timely case filing.

There were also problems with perfecting service, with no shows at court, with clarification of the role of the prosecutor, a problem exacerbated by the practice of short term rotating assignments. Finally, there was a need for a better information flow between IV-A and IV-D.

A successful outreach effort was not mounted. Coordination with local agencies was hampered by concerns for the privacy of minors with out-of-wedlock children and the need for a more systematic approach with better planning and involvement by the agencies and institutions involved.

Despite these implementation problems, the Ohio project produced positive impacts. The expedited processes resulted in shorter periods for paternity establishment for both voluntary and non-voluntary cases. There were shorter intervals between the phases in the establishment process. While establishment outcomes were essentially the same for the experimental groups versus the control groups; when only voluntary cases were included, the outcomes were higher for the experimental group. No show rates were very high for both experimental and control groups reflecting an attitudinal problem (discussed below).

A concurrent demonstration project in Nebraska tested similar concepts. Key features included the establishment of a specialized paternity unit, immediate referral of AFDC applicants to IV-D services and work on the case before the child was born, educational seminars for mothers, use of private process servers and personal contact with alleged fathers. These practices incorporated both case processing and educational goals.

There were numerous administrative problems and it was never completely proven that the specialized team approach would work although the staff involved felt strongly that it would. It did demonstrate cost effectiveness and the need for a proper organization of IV-D case processing activities and for automated support. There were problems in implementing the outreach effort; these findings will be discussed below.

Various States have also adopted innovative practices on their own. In Washington, the fact that one out of four children are born out-of-wedlock combined with Federal requirements for timeliness in establishing paternity and the recognition of the "at risk" nature of these children led to a change in legislation in 1989. Instead of referring all paternity establishment cases to Prosecuting Attorneys or Attorneys General, a cooperative mother and father may sign an Affidavit of Paternity in the hospital at the time of birth. Based on this presumption of paternity, the Office of Support Enforcement may take steps and establish a child support order administratively. These practices address the key elements of cooperation and location and have produced good results so far - 37% of unmarried fathers are signing Affidavits and "typically" a support order is obtained within 98 days after the birth of the child.

More recently, the State of Virginia initiated a hospital-based paternity establishment program and in Pennsylvania a series of incentive payments, including paternity establishment incentives, has been implemented for child support enforcement workers. These are but a few of the various practices implementedat the State level. Most of them have not been thoroughly studied or evaluated as yet.

However, there is a national review of paternity practices begun in 1990 by the Urban Institute. In Paternity Practices at the Local Level, they examined organizational models, process models and selected expedited processes (default judgments, use of quasi-judicial staff, case management practices, genetic testing policies) used in various jurisdictions for paternity establishment.

Preliminary findings from the draft studies indicate that the added incentives provided by the Family Support Act for the implementation of genetic testing and automated systems are probably good in improving paternity establishments. However, Family Support Act provisions which encourage civil processes for voluntary paternity establishment probably have little impact because local jurisdictions already use voluntary consent. The draft findings emphasize the need to view the area of paternity establishment more broadly to see what combinations of practices and processes and organizational arrangements seem to work most effectively.

Finally, a 1991 Institute for Research on Poverty study conducted by Pat Brown and Renee A. Monson, Paternity Establishment in AFDC Cases, examined paternity establishment in AFDC cases in three counties in Wisconsin. By tracking cases through the system, the study came up with some very practical findings. Good record keeping is important and getting a good intake interview is such a key step in paternity establishment that CSE personnel should be placed in the AFDC office or AFDC staff should be trained in CSE information requirements. Early initiation of paternity establishment leads to more successful establishment and thus cases must not be allowed to age. This recommended handling of new cases before old is seen to have two effects - the overall adjudication rate will increase as new cases are successfully processed and the development of a backlog will become apparent more quickly.

As diverse as these studies are, certain common threads can be seen. Early establishment of paternity is more successful than later efforts. This is even more so for cases involving younger parents. Good coordination between IV-A and IV-D is important, knowledge and information requirements need to be shared. Good recordkeeping, good coordination over the phases of paternity establishment and automation to enhance the capability of a case management system all serve to improve paternity establishments. Although voluntary consent to paternity is most common, new genetic testing methods can also expedite paternity establishments.

While there are these similarities, it is not yet clear that any one model or combinations of procedures and processes works best. All these possible best practices require a commitment of staff, a case tracking system, outreach activities to name a few activities. Some might be addressed through a redeployment of resources presently available to the CSE program; others may require additional resources. However, another interrelated problem remains. That is one of attitudes and will be dealt with in the next section of this paper.

C. Attitudes and Perspectives

Both the Nebraska and Ohio demonstration projects had outreach components designed to address attitudinal problems in addition to procedural ones. And, both projects encountered administrative difficulties in implementing these components.

The Nebraska project provided educational seminars for unwed mothers needing paternity establishment services. These seminars provided information on the purpose of paternity establishment, its benefits to the mother and child(ren), the legal process for establishing paternity, the use of genetic testing procedures and meaning of test results, requirements for cooperation and how to complete the paternity questionnaire. All of this was designed to find whether educational outreach to the mothers would improve cooperation with the specialized paternity unit set up under the project.

The project showed that the mothers knew a great deal about the father and his whereabouts but that seminars had little influence on their willingness to provide information. The seminars did help with the accurate filling out of the paternity questionnaire as case workers could work directly with the mothers at the seminar to get the information needed.

The project also tested the idea of a positive conciliatory outreach to the father both before and after the birth. The early non-adversary approach failed as alleged fathers did not schedule meetings with the paternity establishment unit or if they did, did not show up. This approach was changed to filing a paternity petition before contacting the father. This improved the rate of cooperation. In the end, the cooperative, conciliatory approach was dropped. The team filed paternity petitions and initiated service of process before attempting to contact the alleged fathers. This proved to be the most effective technique.

The demonstration in Ohio also encountered difficulties with the outreach segment of the program. Coordination with local agencies was hampered by concerns regarding the privacy of minorswith children out of wedlock. Further, there was a need for a more systematic approach with better planning and involvement at the local level.

The faster, simpler paternity establishment procedures were not sufficient to lure this population. No show rates were very high for both the experimental and the control groups. No show rates were higher for younger custodial parents and younger alleged fathers and when the alleged father was not employed. Within the experimental groups, successful establishment was more likely with younger parents and younger children. This pointed to the need for a systematic outreach effort to reach this population.

Two studies were conducted by Esther Wattenberg of teenage parents in Minnesota. The first, in 1984, found that teenage mothers were overwhelmingly concerned about protecting male partners from harassment and financial consequences. They felt negatively toward and were intimidated by the environment surrounding establishing AFDC eligibility and the forced cooperation with the IV-D program. Putative teenage fathers were apprehensive regarding the court system and confused and fearful of the paternity adjudication process. She found a pattern of increased cooperation with the paternity establishment process when the child reached 2-3 years and posited that this could be caused by decreased support and involvement of the putative father and the need for increased financial support if the mother was no longer living at home.

The second Wattenberg study, in 1988, focused on the child by interviewing both teenage parents where possible and involved white suburban and Black inner-city groups. It referred to these parents as avowers and disavowers, referring to the Declaration of Parentage form used in Minnesota. Demographic data showed this population to be a very low-income, heavily reliant on public assistance, notably mobile in housing patterns, unstable in living arrangements, uncertain in job attachments. Mothers and fathers were in a volatile relationship with more stability prior to the pregnancy. Fathers were often (2/3 time) present at the birth and did maintain a relationship with the child. The quality and duration of this relationship was subject to dispute between the mother and the father with the father viewing it as more substantial than the mother did.

A large number felt that the father's name on the birth certificate was important and valued legal paternity. However, interviews showed a perception of casual neglect and racial discrimination in the presentation of the Declaration of Parentage form at the hospital, an information gap on paternity and legalrights between Blacks and whites and men and women, and a negative view of court adjudication.

Policies also presented perceived impediments to paternity establishment. AFDC was viewed as a "feminized institution", a proposed increase in the $50 passthrough was not regarded as having any influence, and an assortment of conflicts regarding the system - use of the sheriff, criminalizing the process, intimidation of the courts, negative attitudes of all agency personnel, etc. - were reported.

Most important perhaps, the quality of the relationship and fear of economic responsibility were cited as the chief impediments to the decision to establish paternity. A poor relationship was cited by close to 76% of respondents in the decision not to establish paternity. White males gave this factor more influence than Blacks.

Both gender and racial groups also cited negative behaviors by partners as militating against paternity establishment. Not surprisingly, a one year follow-up resulted in the location of only 22% of the sample. Within this group, the economic status of Black women had steadily deteriorated, there was a further loss of confidence that paternity establishment would improve the lives of children, and young unmarried fathers had drifted away from a relationship with the child.

The study developed specific recommendations involving a decriminalized approach to paternity establishment in which voluntary acknowledgement can be "expedited in an available, routine and systematic way." A primary recommendation was choice of the hospital setting as the focus of attention because it is the first institutional line of contact with the father. (A demonstration project in Denver is treating this issue.) It also suggested a mandate that all hospitals assume, as a routine obligation, responsibility for presenting both written and oral information regarding the rights and responsibilities of fathers and the benefits to the child of the Declaration of Parentage. (Demonstration projects in New York and Denver are treating this issue.)

A recommendation designed to affect attitudes in the professional community stressed the need to reinforce the value of the Declaration of Parentage, as a legitimate document, by circulating and disseminating its significance to social service and health agencies concerned with children, youth and families. Final suggestions concerned the creation of a climate of opinion in the community, including the legal and media communities, that supports the responsibility of young, unmarried parents to signthe Declaration as an "indispensable obligation," and provision by hospital of referral resources for legal assistance.

There is also information and data available from national surveys regarding child support and alimony. This data provides limited information regarding attitudes. The Current Population Survey of Child Support and Alimony 1989 showed that 20% of the never married women without child support awards didn't want an award and 15.5% wanted an award but were unable to locate the father. Information on the why behind this data is not provided by this survey. Information regarding the fathers is difficult to obtain but it is thought that they underreport births (see Lerman draft, 1990).

The 1988 National Survey of Adolescent Males showed that there is a higher level of accurate information re paternity requirements and stronger support for familial responsibility than is "commonly believed to exist." Analysis of this data should yield interesting results.

The common thread which runs through all these studies is that the IV-D program is dealing with people who are living in very difficult situations. While improvements in practices and procedures in case management do have an impact, the crucial outreach segments of these projects have not been particularly effective. The parents involved in these demonstrations had a negative attitude toward the system and did not see value in participating in it. This may be indicative of the depth and complexity of the social problem presenting itself and the capacity of the social service agencies to cooperate and deal with it. These findings should impact the design of any future IV-A/IV-D interface projects.

D. Child Support, Welfare and Young Parents - Additional Research Relevant to Paternity Establishment

Daniel Meyer,(IRP, University of Wisconsin, 1991) Child Support and Welfare Dynamics: Evidence from Wisconsin, used a discrete time event history model on a merged set of Wisconsin administrative data bases to study child support and welfare dynamics. The literature search showed that the most common reason for entering and exiting welfare was a change in family structure. While most studies did not treat child support and other unearned income other than AFDC, a 1988 analysis by Klawitter and Garfinkel of exits from welfare included child support and showed that routine wage withholding had no significant effect on the length of AFDC spells. Based on the assumption that child support had a small effect on exiting welfare, it was also assumed that it had little effect on re-entry.

With regard to the interaction between child support and AFDC, simulation models showed increased collections only have a modest effect on AFDC recipients. A possible reason given for this last finding was that the absent parent of a child on AFDC is often poor himself and thus while collections may go up, the effect on the individual AFDC recipient is not large compared to the AFDC she is receiving. (This somewhat parallels some preliminary findings in a review and modification study where it was found that, while overall collections went up as a result of review and modification, compliance with the modified orders decreased.)

The Meyer analysis also concluded that child support in modest amounts did not have a large effect on exiting from welfare. With regard to re-entry, however, the study found that recidivism was higher than thought but that child support does decrease the likelihood of re-entry. In fact, it appears that even just the existence of an award makes re-entry less likely. It was posited that perhaps this is because the award may include medical benefits, the women may choose to appear poorer before an award is set and the award may mark a transition period. There is also the possibility that there is an interaction among child support, welfare re-entry and remarriage and that regularity of child support may be an important factor. These areas were recommended for further study.

Policy interventions suggested included programs to improve the educational levels of AFDC recipients leading to a decrease in welfare use and low-cost day care programs leading to reducing welfare re-entry for all low-income families.

Sandra K. Danziger and Ann Nichols-Casebolt used data from an evaluation of the Wisconsin Child Support Assurance Demonstration to develop Teen Parents and Child Support: Eligibility, Participation and Payment (1988 Journal of Social Services Research). They found a growing population eligible for child support because a high proportion of teen births are to unmarried women and since the mid-70's the number and rate of births to unmarried teens has been increasing. These increases result from several concurrent trends - an increase in premarital conceptions, an increasing pattern of delayed marriage (and decline in the number of births legitimated through marriage); and, a larger baby boom cohort going through their teens and early twenties. Further, even among those who marry, births at an early age tend to lead to more children and greater frequency and duration of single parent status than among those who delay births until their twenties.

These teenage mothers represent an increasing proportion of AFDC costs and caseloads: over one-half of the AFDC budget goes tofamilies where the mother was a teenager when her first child was born. In addition, as never married parents, they are among the groups least likely to receive a court-ordered award and if they receive an award, the least likely to then receive any support.

This study found three barriers to teenage mothers using the child support enforcement system. First, many must establish paternity before they are eligible to seek an order. Second, the young age of the mother and father may reduce the probability that the court will order an award and that payment will be forthcoming. And, third, to the extent that the system tends to favor married or divorced women, teens who are less likely to be married will be less likely to benefit from it.

The study concludes that the stumbling block for teen parents occurs at the paternity adjudication phase and thus the "greatest potential for improving the system would seem to be an increase in the percentage of paternity adjudications." The study suggests that the current low rate implies that young mothers see little benefit to establishing paternity. (See the two studies by Esther Wattenberg above with the same findings and the discussion of the outreach components of the demonstration programs in Ohio and Nebraska.)

The study also suggests that incentives to child support enforcement agencies are a good idea to encourage them in the early establishment of paternity. It states that wage withholding does not work for this group; rather there is a need to focus on in-kind contributions and the establishment of a sense of responsibility (see below).

Robert Lerman in a draft study, Fatherhood, Child Support and Earnings (American University 1990) used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Labor Market Behavior for the 1979-87 period. He examined the role of economic resources versus other characteristics in the payment of child support. Preliminary findings were that both economic conditions and human capital characteristics were important. Schooling, aptitudes and local employment conditions all affected the earnings of absent parents. This in turn significantly affected the level of support payments.

But, there were factors other than economic opportunity that played at least as large a role as earnings capacity. In looking at trends in absent fatherhood, one sees that despite the economic boom, the proportion of young men who became absent fathers did not decline. Further, young men who became absent fathers started with only slightly lower earnings and lower capacities than other young men, not a significant difference. Finally, racial and ethnicdifferences were often more important than purely economic factors in influencing fatherhood outcomes.

In the payment of child support, absent fathers with high earnings capacities contributed higher support payments but here too non-economic factors often were more important. Fathers who started second families paid more relative to earnings and sometimes even more in absolute terms than similar fathers with fewer responsibilities. Married or formerly-married absent fathers paid higher support than never married. There was no evidence that support payments diminished over time.

Maureen Pirog-Good and David H.Good have also studied teenage parents. A 1990 study, Child Support Enforcement for Teenage Fathers: Problems and Prospects, found that the treatment of teenage fathers by the child support enforcement program is not well understood at the national level and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The study analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey which showed that 7.4% of teenage males become fathers prior to the age of 20, slightly over 80% of them do not live with their child and most never come into contact with the child support enforcement program.

The analysis showed that the initial earnings of teen fathers are as high as that of teens who do not become fathers and that their potential for support increases with time. Because of this potential, they recommend a national policy which calls for early establishment of paternity. They also suggest an outreach program into middle and high schools to explain the benefits of paternity establishment and combat resistance to it.

The study warns that care must be taken regarding the rights of an absent teenage father and the size of the award as an award to the mother may drive the father's household into poverty. For those teen fathers who do live with their child, the study found that their earlier entry into the job market was detrimental to long-term earnings. It recommended that experimental projects dealing with alternative means and approaches to obligations for teenage fathers be examined (see below).

Pirog-Good also looked, in 1988, at the Teenage Alternative Parenting Program (Child Support Compliance Among Young Fathers: Preliminary Evidence from the Teen Alternative Parenting Program) in Marion County, Indiana. The objective of this project was to improve child support compliance by offering a non-adversarial alternative. The program allowed "in-kind" payment by crediting regular visitation, stay in school GED, parenting or job training to increase both the willingness and the ability of the teenage parent to pay in the long term.

While there were a limited number of participants for various reasons, local child support enforcement staff believed that it was worthwhile in that it offered something for young men who were willing but unable to meet their child support monetary responsibility. The study points out that traditional child support enforcement efforts are counter to all other government programming designed to address the problems of this population group.

A third study by the same author, Teenage Paternity, Child Support and Crime (1988) examined two ideas: teenage paternity and delinquency are unrelated but result from the same processes or circumstances; teenage paternity introduces new limits on legitimate means to attain socially approved goals and thus results in increased delinquency. Findings were that teenage paternity and delinquency probably result from similar processes or circumstances, i.e., low self-esteem, need to confirm one's social identity, lack of appropriate role models or misguided public policies. The pattern of behavior suggests that unwed teenage fathers should be targeted for assistance by social services and crime prevention agencies. Pursuing paternity establishment was not found to generate offensive behavior and thus was to be pursued.

In summary, all three of these studies showed the need to examine public policy as it relates to this teenage population. They point up the need for more cooperation and coordination among programs so that programs that are supposed to help this population take into consideration their responsibilities as fathers and under the child support enforcement system.


There are a number of areas of agreement in these studies. They all emphasize the importance of paternity establishment, done as soon as possible and regardless of whether the absent parent actually has the ability to pay at the time the award is established. They show that paternity establishment is cost-effective. They also present a number of practices that can lead to faster, more effective successful paternity establishment. They call for better coordination and cooperation at all levels among the various service agencies with responsibility for working with low-income parents.

In addition, they all recognize certain broader, non-procedural issues, especially with the teenage population. Almost all call for outreach and educational efforts into the community, including peer groups and families and into the social agencies responsible for servicing these communities. They point out that current public policy can be counter-productive for teenage parentsand that traditional enforcement policies can work against other social programming which is designed to help them. These recommendations reflect a recognition of a social phenomenon which has become ingrained. Out-of-wedlock births have been increasing and continue to increase. Marriage is less frequent than before. Community attitudes toward out-of-wedlock birth and marriage have changed. These changes require a response from the social services agencies and institutions which deal with this population; they present a real challenge to the child support enforcement community.

Papers Cited in Current Issues in Paternity Establishment

Adams, C.F.Jr., Landsbergen, D. and Cobler, L.L., Parents for Ohio's Children: Evaluating the Impact of the Cuyahoga County Paternity Establishment Demonstration Project (1990)

Brown, Pat, and Monson, Renee A., Paternity Establishment in AFDC Cases: Three Wisconsin Counties (1991)

Bureau of the Census, Current Populations Survey of Child Support and Alimony 1989, (September, 1991)

Danziger, Sandra K. and Nichols-Casebolt, Ann, Teen Parents and Child Support: Eligibility, Participation and Payment, (1988)

Holcomb, P., Seefeldt, K. and Sonnenstein, F., Paternity Establishment in 1990: Organizational Structure, Voluntary Consent and Administrative Practices (draft, 1992)

Holcomb, P., Seefeldt, K., and Sonnenstein, F., Paternity Establishment in 1990: Results of a National Survey (1991)

Lerman, Robert, Fatherhood, Child Support and Earnings: A Report on the Links Between Family Responsibilities and Job Market Outcomes, (draft, 1990)

Melli, Marygold S., A Brief History of the Legal Structure for Paternity Establishment in the United States (February 1992)

Meyer, Daniel R., Child Support and Welfare Dynamics: Evidence from Wisconsin, (1991)

Office of Child Support Enforcement, Paternity Establishment (3rd edition, 1990)

Pirog-Good, Maureen, Teenage Paternity, Child Support and Crime, (1988)

Pirog-Good, Maureen, Child Support Compliance Among Young Fathers: Preliminary Evidence from the Teen Alternative Parenting Program (1988)

Pirog-Good, Maureen and Good, David H., Child Support Enforcement for Teenage Fathers: Problems and Prospects, (1990)

Sonnenstein, Pleck and Ku, National Survey of Adolescent Males, (1988)

Sonnenstein, F., Holcomb, P. and Seefeldt, K., Paternity Practices at the Local Level: A Preliminary View from a National Survey (1990)

Wattenberg, Esther, Brewer, Rose and Resnick, Michael, Paternity Decisions of Young, Unmarried Parents, (February, 1991)

Wattenberg, Esther, Exploratory Study of Paternity Adjudications for Teenage Parents in Minnesota (1984)

Williams, Victoria S. and Price, David A., Nebraska Paternity Project: Final Report and Design Report (November 1990)

Young, Edward M., Center for Health and Social Services Research, Costs and Benefits of Paternity Establishment (February, 1985)

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