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New York Strengthening Families Through Stronger Fathers Initiative

What Works - Child Support Evidence-Based Practice Summary

Published: September 11, 2019

New York's Strengthening Families Through Stronger Fathers Initiative is an example of a noncustodial parent employment program that demonstrated strong child support and employment outcomes. This summary highlights the lessons learned during program implementation, describes the funding sources, and provides local agency contacts.

Funding Source: TANF Funds

OCSE Policy Reference: IM-18-02, PIQ-12-02

Related performance measure(s): Percent of current support paid

Short summary description of project/innovation:

As part of the Strengthening Families Through Stronger Fathers Initiative, the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) tested the impact of providing employment and other support services to low-income parents who were behind in their child support payments. The initiative also aimed to establish an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) available to low-income noncustodial parents who paid their obligation in full.

The goals of the pilot were to:

  • increase employment and earnings of unemployed or underemployed parents who owe support
  • increase child support payments
  • support and improve parenting behavior

OTDA contracted with five organizations to provide employment services in four cities: Buffalo, Jamestown, Syracuse, and New York City.

Participants were assigned to case managers who helped them assess their needs, develop a plan, and manage the delivery of program services. In all sites, the services focused on job readiness, job search, and job placement assistance. Each site also provided parenting or relationship skills workshops and child support-related services. Some sites offered additional services such as job skills training, transitional jobs, and work supports as well as access to a variety of health, education, and financial-assistance services.

The pilot used a range of methods to recruit participants. Some sites recruited almost exclusively through court referrals. Others relied on internal referrals, advertisement, and outreach. One program was co-located with a career center and received large numbers of referrals from the center.

In each site, the local child support agency played a different role in the pilot. At one site, the local child support agency was the lead organization and managed day-to-day operations of the pilot. At other sites, the local child support agency had a supportive role that focused on resolving child support issues, verifying eligibility of parents to participate, and delivering child support workshops to participants.

Jurisdiction/Location: Four cities in New York State: Buffalo, Jamestown, Syracuse, and New York City

Scale of project (numbers served/reached by intervention) : <1,000 (a total of 703 participating parents who owe support were included in the study on child support outcomes, and a total of 3,668 participants received pilot services)

Dates of implementation: October 2006 to September 2009

Project cost estimates: $3 million in TANF funds

Evaluation/analysis conducted and, if so, what type and who?

The Urban Institute conducted the evaluation. To understand the impact of the pilot, evaluators used a nonexperimental design, called propensity score matching, to compare participant outcomes with a comparable sample of nonparticipants in New York State. By selecting a sample of nonparticipants based on a large number of pre-treatment variables, including wage, child support, and demographic data, the impact estimates could be relied on as sound evidence. The final subgroup for child support outcomes included 703 participants and 189,377 nonparticipants.

The bulk of the data used for the study came from OTDA’s administrative database and additional information came from the New York State child support program. During implementation, the NY DADS database was developed for pilot staff to record case activities. Additional wage information was collected to assess the impact of the pilot a year after the intervention was launched.

Evidence of impacts? Participants in the pilot program had greater earnings in the year following enrollment, were more likely to be employed than the comparison group, were more likely to pay current child support, and paid more child support than nonparticipants.

Key findings/lessons:

Findings:

  • Participants earned an average of $986 more than nonparticipants in the year after enrollment, a 22% increase in earnings compared to their pre-enrollment earnings.
  • Participants were 9.8% more likely than the comparison group to be employed in the year after enrolling in the program.
  • In the year after enrollment, participants saw a 38% increase in amount paid in child support. Participants paid an average of $504 more in child support than nonparticipants.
  • On average, participants were 13.6 percentage points more likely to pay any current support than the nonparticipant group in the year after enrollment, a 22% increase.
  • Although child support payments among nonparticipants increased slightly over the post- enrollment period, payments among participants increased substantially more, a gap that continued to increase until the end of the follow-up period.
  • The proportion of the nonparticipant group who paid child support stayed constant throughout the study, but the proportion of program participants who paid continued to increase steadily.

Lessons:

  • A narrow age eligibility criteria initially hampered recruitment efforts. Originally, OTDA required participants to be between 18 and 35 years old. Upon the launch of the pilot, it became clear that many who wanted to take part fell out of that age range. OTDA expanded the age range from 16 to 45 years old in 2007. Some staff noted that an older population was interested and in need of services and age restrictions limited the reach and impact of the pilot.
  • Recruitment was a consistent challenge. Developing a referral partnership with family courts and the career center were critical to the sites that had higher recruitment numbers.
  • Substantial child support staff time was needed to verify child support eligibility of recruits and collect outcome data. At least one site submitted waivers to child support offices to obtain this information for participants and responses incurred long delays. This issue was ultimately resolved by devoting more child support staff to the process and prioritizing these efforts.
  • Staff reported that regular changes to data collection tools caused an excess burden and confusion that was alleviated by the development of a central online database. Prior to the creation of the NY DADS database, staff provided information to evaluators through paper forms. Early in the initiative, the forms changed regularly which required retraining staff after each change.
  • Cross-site differences in service delivery and design led to general uncertainty about the program's objectives and focus. Some sites centered their intervention around intensive parenting support, others focused on gaining and retaining employment. This inconsistency made it difficult to measure cross-site outcomes.
  • The project office model employed by one site, in which one off-site organization served as the fiscal agent and project manager, allowed the lead organization to provide oversight of all pilot partner operations without any bias towards one service provider. This model showed the most progress as an effective means of service delivery and project management.

Project became institutionalized/ongoing practice: No

If project discontinued - reasons: No additional funding

Agency contact for more information: Monique Rabideau (Monique.Rabideau@otda.ny.gov)

Evaluator contact: Kyle Lippold (klippold@urban.org) and Elaine Sorensen (Elaine.Sorensen@acf.hhs.gov)

Project replicated? Locations and contacts: No

Link to evaluation report(s)? Strengthening Families Through Stronger Fathers Initiative: Summary of Impact Findings

Last Reviewed: September 11, 2019

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