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- What amount and type of support do fathers participating in RF programs provide to their children? What are their attitudes toward providing this support?
- What are the impacts of the PACT RF programs for key subgroups on outcomes relevant to fathers’ financial support for their children, such as the amount of support provided and knowledge of the child support system?
- What are the long-term impacts of the PACT RF programs on fathers’ earnings and employment, which might be related to their long-term ability to provide support?
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; Meyer et al. 2008; Takayesu 2011). Child well-being can be improved when child support programs enable and enforce fathers’ financial support for children (Mincy and Sorensen 1998). 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).
This report investigates how low-income fathers participating in Responsible Fatherhood (RF) programs perceive and provide support for their children. It uses both quantitative and qualitative information collected on fathers as part of the Parents and Children Together (PACT) evaluation, a multi-component evaluation of RF programs for low-income fathers funded by grants awarded by Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Findings presented in this report build on earlier PACT RF evaluation efforts by combining information from the qualitative and impact studies conducted as part of PACT.
Findings presented in this report 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 report 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. Finally, it examines long-term impacts on fathers’ earnings and employment, which is related to their long-term ability to provide support for children.
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. We found that most fathers provided support in a variety of ways. 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. In 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, 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.
To examine the amount and type of support fathers in PACT RF programs provide support 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 examined the characteristics of fathers who provided financial support for their children during the follow-up period by comparing the baseline characteristics of fathers in the PACT RF program group who provided any financial support during the year after study enrollment and those who did not.
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.
We estimated impacts on long-term earnings and employment using administrative records on employment and earnings. These records are available for a three-year follow-up period for sample members who enrolled in the study in the early part of the enrollment period. Survey and administrative records data used in the main PACT analysis cover only a one-year follow-up period.
Findings presented here 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.
- 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