Most fathers want to provide financially for their children. For some, however, unstable employment and low wages can make this responsibility difficult to meet.
The findings of a new qualitative study by Mathematica Policy Research underscore key concerns and challenges faced by fathers with limited incomes. Their economic instability compromises their ability to pay child support, child support policies are often unable to accommodate their fluctuating economic circumstances, and fathers yearn for more access to their children so they can provide social and emotional support in addition to financial support. To promote the well-being of fathers, mothers, and children, we must balance these issues in considering solutions.
As part of the PACT evaluation, conducted on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Mathematica researchers conducted three rounds of in-depth interviews with men who voluntarily participated in one of four Responsible Fatherhood (RF) programs. The first round of in-depth interviews included 87 fathers, most of whom were African American, did not live with their children, and experienced high rates of economic instability and unemployment.
The interviews covered a wide range of topics, including fathers’ relationships with their children and their children’s mothers, whether and how they supported their children financially, their experiences with the child support system, and any help they received from RF programs on child support issues. In a second round of in-depth interviews with 59 of these fathers, we collected more detailed information about the amount and type of informal support fathers gave their children, their views of the child support system, and their efforts to modify their child support orders.