Unemployment by non-residential fathers directly affects their ability to pay child support. This is impactful for fatherhood programs, considering that the Office of Child Support Enforcement(OCSE) estimates 13% of non-residential parents are unemployed for extended periods of time. Further, paying child support may be difficult for non-residential fathers who have temporary employment or work as independent contractors, two growing trends. When non-residential fathers are out of the labor force, they suffer a decrease in life satisfaction, experience potentially adverse health consequences, and their families suffer from a lack of reliable child support payments.
States have witnessed success from implementing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)-funded and employment-focused child support programs. These states have experienced significant increases in child support collections, long-term employment among participants, and significant savings to the state when factoring in the reduced need for public assistance among custodial parents receiving child support.
Programs serving non-residential fathers should consider efforts to coordinate initiatives for fathers struggling to pay child support along with employment or workforce development programs.
Tips & Best Practices
- Offer fathers accurate information about child support. Programs that serve non-residential fathers need to stay abreast of the laws on child support enforcement and make sure they are providing the most up to date information. The Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) provides guidance and instructions to state child support agencies to accurately obtain child support to encourage responsible parenting, family self-sufficiency, child well-being, and the essential role of both parents supporting their children.
- Educate and convince fathers of the importance of providing formal support. Many fathers provide financial support to their children but do not go through the formal child support system. There are many reasons for this. In one study, fathers stated they did not trust the system to pass on all the money to their children. Having an accurate record of child support payments helps non-residential fathers if disputes arise between them and the mother of their child.
- Help reduce arrears in child support for non-residential fathers through education and attendance at classes. For instance, Connections to Success in Kansas City has a partnership with Kansas Child Support Services (KCSS). KCSS reduces child support arrearages up to $2,000 based on the number of hours of fatherhood program participation. An additional $1,000 reduction is available for fathers who obtain their GED or a commercial driver’s license. Additionally, the FATHER Project in Minneapolis has a similar arrangement with local child support offices in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. Arrears owed to the state can be forgiven over time for fathers who complete parenting training and continue to make consistent payments of at least part of the amount owed.
Marvin Charles and his wife, Jeanett, founded Divine Alternatives for Dads (DADS) in their Seattle, WA, living room in 1998. They had been homeless, unemployed addicts and had lost several of their children to the foster care system before taking steps to become sober, find housing, and obtain steady employment. Since that time, they have successfully applied lessons learned during their own recovery to help others “put their families back together.” Their program focuses on helping fathers recover from addiction, return from prison, and deal with general difficulties of life. Key to their success has been effective partnerships with various community organizations and state agencies, including the state departments of Corrections, Social and Health Services, and Child Support; local employment agencies and public and private employers; King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office and local courts; Atlantic Street Center, a community-based organization providing court-approved parenting classes; and Union Gospel Mission, which provides services for homeless individuals and families.
Where can I find resources for providing information on the child support process to my fathers?
The National Conference of State Legislatures has compiled Child Support 101, a series of online documents that explain the child support process and services. It is broken in to four areas: child support basics, administration, enforcement, and family centered services. Each of those areas is divided into a variety of online documents that detail the process and state involvement in those processes. Additionally, The Center for Urban Families (CFUF) in Baltimore, Maryland, has a long-standing partnership with their local child support office. Child support staff provide a 2.5-hour Child Support 101 course that helps dads understand the system and how payments are calculated. Since the partnership began, support payments are up and 80 percent of long-term CFUF participants are paying child support.
How can I establish a workforce program for low-income, non-custodial fathers with the goal to improve child support payments?
The Tennessee Workforce Strategies and Child Support Services Project created a toolkit that provides a step-by-step guide to establishing a workforce program for unemployed or underemployed, low-income noncustodial parents (NCPs) in the child support system. It is intended for use by child support agencies interested in developing workforce programs for NCPs who have employment problems and are consequently unable to pay their child support obligations.
Where can I find a list of work-oriented programs for non-custodial parents with active child support agency involvement?
The Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement has compiled a list of programs by state and by county. At least 30 states and the District of Columbia have work-oriented programs with active child support agency involvement that serve non-custodial parents. These would provide great resources for programs wanting to start a program or refer dads to programs that can help them.