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Recent policies encourage the development of programs designed to improve the economic status of low-income nonresident fathers and the financial and emotional support provided to their children. This brief provides ten key lessons from several important early responsible fatherhood initiatives that were developed and implemented during the 1990s and early 2000s. Formal evaluations of these earlier fatherhood efforts have been completed making this an opportune time to step back and assess what has been learned and how to build on the early programs' successes and challenges.
The role of noncustodial fathers in the
lives of low-income families has received
increased attention in the past decade. As
welfare reform has placed time limits on
cash benefits, policymakers and program
administrators have become interested in
increasing financial support from noncustodial
parents as a way to reduce
poverty among low-income children.
Although child support enforcement
efforts have increased dramatically in
recent years, there is evidence that many
low-income fathers cannot afford to meet
their child support obligations without
impoverishing themselves or their families.
Instead, many fathers accumulate
child support debts that may lead them
to evade the child support system and
see less of their children.
To address these complex issues,
states and localities have put programs in
place that focus on developing services
and options to help low-income fathers
find more stable and better-paying jobs,
pay child support consistently, and become
more involved parents. In part because
of the availability of new funding
sources and a growing interest in familyfocused
programs, this area is experiencing
dramatic growth, with hundreds of
“fatherhood” programs developing
across the country.
Under the expanded purposes of
Title IVA, authorized in the Personal
Responsibility and Work Opportunity
Reconciliation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-193,
also known as PRWORA), states have
been able to use some of their Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
funds to provide services to nonresident
fathers, including employment-related
services. PRWORA also authorized
grants to states to assist noncustodial parents
with access and visitation issues, and
it required states, as part of their Child
Support Enforcement Program, to have
procedures requiring fathers who are not
paying child support to participate in
work activities, which may include employment
and training programs. The
Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) of 2005
(P.L. 109-171), which contains a reauthorization
of the TANF program, also authorized
funding to states and public and
nonprofit entities for responsible fatherhood
These recent policies encourage the
development of more programs for lowincome
fathers. This brief focuses on
several important early fatherhood initiatives
that were developed and implemented
during the 1990s and early 2000s
that provide valuable lessons to policymakers
and program staff now in this
field. Formal evaluations of these earlier
fatherhood efforts have been completed,
some quite recently, making this an opportune
time to step back and assess
what has been learned and how to build
on the early programs’ successes and
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