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Partners for Fragile Families Demonstration Projects: Publications Analyze Implementation and Outcomes


Published: December 10, 2007



DATE: December 10, 2007


RE: Partners for Fragile Families (PFF) Demonstration Projects: Publications Analyze Implementation and Outcomes with Narrative Studies of the Reactions of Noncustodial Parents in These Projects

Dear Colleague:

This letter summarizes key findings from the three recently released reports evaluating the PFF demonstration projects: "The Implementation of the Partners for Fragile Families Demonstration Projects," "Partners for Fragile Families Demonstration Projects: Employment and Child Support Outcomes and Trends" and "Voices of Young Fathers: The Partners for Fragile Families Demonstration Projects." The evaluations, which were conducted by the Urban Institute, can be found at: http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/07/PFF/index.htm

It is my hope that these reports will encourage and enable you to initiate, improve and evaluate responsible fatherhood programs in your State or Tribe.


Margot Bean
Office of Child Support Enforcement


cc: OCSE Regional Program Managers



From 2000 through 2003, nine States conducted Partners for Fragile Families (PFF) demonstrations which were designed to help fragile families by helping fathers work with mothers in sharing the legal, financial, and emotional responsibilities of parenthood. Services were targeted at young, never-married, noncustodial parents who did not have a child support order in place and faced obstacles to employment. The PFF projects tested new ways for State-run child support enforcement programs and community-based organizations to work together to help young fathers obtain employment, make child support payments and learn parenting skills and to help parents build stronger partnerships. The goal of the demonstrations was to make lasting changes in the way public agencies and community organizations work with young unmarried parents to increase the likelihood of positive outcomes for children and parents, by strengthening family ties and commitments and by promoting the voluntary establishment of paternity, payment of child support, and other types of increased father involvement.

The sites completing the demonstrations were in: Baltimore, Maryland; Boston, Massachusetts; Denver, Colorado; Indianapolis, Indiana; Los Angeles, California; Minneapolis, Minnesota; New York, New York; and West Chester, Pennsylvania. These projects received up to $1 million in Federal OCSE formula funds via Section 1115 waivers which were matched by funds provided by the Ford Foundation and other local foundations. The projects were managed by the National Partnership for Community Leadership (NPCL), Ford Foundation, and State and Federal staff. The evaluation was conducted by the Urban Institute of Washington, D.C. Federal funds were provided by the Office of Child Support Enforcement and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Urban Institute conducted a process and outcome evaluation interviewing all service providers (including child support enforcement, community-based organizations, and partner agencies) and analyzing client data matched with administrative wage data before and after the PFF program. This evaluation did not have a control group. In-depth interviews with selected fathers were also conducted.

Although the young fathers were interested in getting jobs and seeking help with visitation with their children, despite active efforts to secure recruits, it was difficult to secure targeted recruitment levels of young fathers due to the strict initial criteria. Eventually, in most sites, the recruitment criteria had to be broadened beyond serving first-time fathers who had not established paternity. Many sites eventually allowed participation by fathers with more than one child and fathers who were already involved with the child support system, including those who had established legal paternity or had a child support enforcement case. Even when eligibility criteria were more relaxed it was difficult to recruit the number of fathers desired. In many instances the young fathers were not interested due to the child support focus or their developmental stage, they were unconnected to the child support enforcement or other community agencies and fathers recruited often failed to show up. Moreover, once enrolled, the fathers often did not complete the program (e.g., one site had a 70% attrition rate). Sites were unable to help fathers with visitation because they were unable to successfully address the parent relationships; this is a key issue with many fathers. In general, employment assistance consisted mainly of job search and preparation though West Chester provided some construction-related on-the-job training.

Project Results

The critical results of the PFF demonstrations for the participants studied are as follows:

  • With the exception of Denver, employment rates for participants before and after the program were largely unchanged after the demonstration.
  • On average, about half of the PFF participants worked in a given quarter.
  • Average quarterly earnings improved from $1,501 at enrollment to $2,470 two years after enrollment.
  • The child support order rate for participants increased from 13% of the participants at enrollment to 35% two years after enrollment.
  • Child support, in terms of months with a child support payment, increased steadily from one year to two years after enrollment but it was at a low level averaging payments in only 5 months.
  • For those who paid child support the average child support payment was $1,569 for the first year following enrollment and $2,296 for the second year after enrollment.

Participant Findings

In order to get a more in-depth look at the participation of the young fathers, an "ethnographic" or multiple interview study of 9 selected African-American and Latino father participants from Boston and Indianapolis was conducted. Some of the key findings are as follows:

  • All respondents were raised at or near poverty in crime and drug-filled neighborhoods.
  • Most were raised with single parents although there was some father and step-father presence for some of the time.
  • The fathers have one or two young children; multiple children are usually from different parents.
  • Education was at a low level; participants were unemployed or held low-level unstable jobs.
  • Most had a juvenile crime record.
  • Visitation or co-habitation with some of the children is the rule.
  • Many had child support orders from $40 to 90 per week.
  • Relations with mothers were poor, especially if there was a new girl friend or the mother had a live-in boy friend. Stress began after pregnancy and was somewhat grounded in inability to provide financially for the child.
  • Fathers felt that mothers frequently blocked visitation of children.
  • Fathers felt that they were unable to give consistent financial support.
  • Men were interested in being good fathers.
  • The men felt that the program helped them to focus on the needs of fatherhood-patience, responsibility-and stated that the child needs two biological parents.
  • There was concern that the children needed to be protected against gangs and drugs.
  • Generally, fathers did not envision marrying the mother of their first child, though some men indicated optimism about their relationship with the mother of their second child. Consequently, the men explained that they had to be careful in navigating actual and potential conflicts with the custodial parents of their first child.
  • The young men felt that the program improved their focus and understanding of fatherhood.
  • The men developed an understanding and appreciation of the value of child support as a source of predictable, stable support for their children, although there was concern over whether the child would actually get the money or have the money spent on them.
Last Reviewed: May 28, 2019

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