How Low-income Fathers in Responsible Fatherhood Programs Perceive and Provide Financial Support for their Children

Publication Date: November 3, 2020
Cover of Pact Brief Child Support 2020

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  • Published: 2020

Introduction

Financial support from fathers can lead to important improvements in child well-being. Financial support from noncustodial fathers, often provided through formal child support payments, can make up a substantial part of the income of single-parent families and lead to reductions in child poverty (ACF 2016; Sorensen 2010). Child well-being can be improved when child support programs enable and enforce fathers’ financial support for children. Child support has been linked to a variety of positive outcomes, such as improved educational outcomes, increased health insurance coverage, and reduced risk of maltreatment (ACF 2016; Cancian et al. 2013; Knox 1996).

Purpose

Findings presented in this brief shed light on how low-income fathers interested in RF programs perceive and provide financial support for their children. It complements earlier findings from PACT RF reports by combining findings from qualitative and quantitative analyses, documenting the patterns of support for fathers in the study, examining fathers with a child support order and other subgroups relevant to child support policy, and highlighting findings from a broader range of outcomes related to financial support. The brief describes the amount and type of support PACT RF fathers provided and identifies factors that drive their decisions about supporting their children. It examines impacts of the PACT RF program on outcomes related to child support for key subgroups of fathers. The brief is a companion to a fuller report on the same topic, see Moore et al. 2020.

Key Findings and Highlights

Fathers interested in RF programs provide financial support for their children in many ways, and their reasons for providing different types of financial support are complex. During the year after study enrollment, it was common for PACT RF fathers to provide more than one type of support, such as formal child support payments and noncash support. Fathers with greater ability to pay were more likely to provide any type of support. Financial support for children and contact with children are closely linked. During in-person interviews, fathers described a complicated set of factors that led to decisions about how they support their children. These factors include access to children, child well-being, the co-parenting relationship with the mothers of their children, compliance with child support responsibilities, and ability to provide support given their income.

The PACT RF programs had several favorable impacts for fathers with a child support order, improving their involvement with their children and increasing their knowledge of the child support system. However, they did not improve fathers’ perceived fairness of the child support system, nor did they increase the amount of support provided. These quantitative findings are consistent with qualitative findings that many fathers with child support orders find it difficult to make ends meet and might not have the resources to contribute more support.

Methods

To examine the amount and type of support fathers in PACT RF programs provide for their children, we examined fathers’ one-year follow-up survey responses pertaining to financial support and child support payment activity during the year after study enrollment among fathers in the PACT RF program group. We also used data from the PACT qualitative study to examine what fathers say about the support they provide and to provide illustrative examples of the experience, knowledge, and attitudes of the child support system by fathers in PACT. We also  compared the baseline characteristics of fathers in the PACT RF program group who provided any financial support during the year after study enrollment to those who did not in order to understand what characteristics may be associated with providing financial support.

To examine subgroup impacts of PACT RF programs on financial support outcomes, we estimated impacts for key groups defined based on their characteristics at the time they enrolled in the study, such as RF program and initial child support order status. To do so, we compared the outcomes of the program group in each subgroup category with those of their control group counterparts.

Recommendations

Findings presented in the brief underscore the complexity of efforts to increase fathers’ financial support for their children. Fathers interested in RF programs report wanting to provide support for their children, and quantitative findings indicate that those with greater ability to pay were more likely to do so. However, the types of support fathers provide are varied, as are the motivations for providing different types of support.

Results from the PACT evaluation suggest that to increase fathers’ financial support for their children, RF programs might need to demonstrate changes for a range of outcomes, such as improving fathers’ economic outcomes, increasing involvement with children, or improving attitudes toward parenting and child support. The PACT RF programs were able to improve some of these outcomes for some fathers. Among fathers with a child support order at baseline, PACT RF programs increased involvement with children and knowledge of the child support system, but they did not increase the amount of support provided. A missing link for generating impacts on support might be impacts on earnings and economic stability, particularly given the positive relationship found here between ability to pay and likelihood of providing support. Future studies of RF programs with more intensive economic stability services should investigate this possibility.

Citation

Quinn Moore, Rebekah Selekman, Ankita Patnaik, and Heather Zaveri. (2020). Parents and Children Together: How Low-Income Fathers in Responsible Fatherhood Programs Perceive and Provide Financial Support for Their Children: Summary Brief. OPRE Report # 2020-118. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Glossary

Formal Support:
Cash support provided by way of the formal child support system through wage withholding or payments
Informal Support:
Cash support provided directly to the custodial parent
NONCASH SUPPORT:
The financial value of goods and services purchased in the interest of children