Reforming deadbeat dads Child support: Program to help some fathers become better providers fizzled.

November 12, 1998

STUDIES of a $12 million multi-city program to help poor, absentee fathers become better parents are not encouraging.

The goal was to increase the income and employment of the fathers so that they could better provide for their children and take some of the pressure off mothers.

But researchers at the Manpower Development Research Corp. in New York found that the efforts either failed and were only moderately successful in getting the men to make child support payments.

The study of the Parents' Fair Share looked at projects in seven cities -- Los Angeles; Memphis; Jacksonville, Fla.; Dayton, Ohio; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Springfield, Mass.; and Trenton, N.J. Focus is turning to poor fathers as part of the effort to end welfare; states are required to find these men and force them to help support their offspring. The idea was that men who agreed to participate would be given a break on support payments, required to attend counseling and seek jobs or training.

The study noted that one unanticipated problem was administrative clashes between those agencies charged with enforcement and collection and those concerned with counseling.

Obviously, the bureaucratic tangles need straightening out.

The researchers took some comfort in several small improvements, including slight increases in child support payments and more involvement by fathers with their children as a result of counseling they received.

The main lesson, though, is that there are no quick and easy solutions to the problems of absentee fathers, some of whom are living at the margins of society, with little education and few skills.

Until a better way is found that produces more dramatic successes, there will be disappointments. But for the children, their parents and society, it is important to keep trying to come up with something that works.

Pub Date: 11/12/98

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