One of the most challenging goals for welfare reformers has been improving the collection of child support payments from noncustodial parents, usually fathers. Often vilified as deadbeats who have dropped out of their children's lives, these fathers have been the target of largely punitive enforcement policies that give little consideration to the complex circumstances of these men's lives.
Fathers' Fair Share presents an alternative to these measures with an in-depth study of the Parents Fair Share Program. A multi-state intervention run by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, the program was designed to better the life skills of nonpaying fathers with children on public assistance, in the belief that this would encourage them to improve their level of child support. The men chosen for the program frequently lived on the margins of society. Chronically unemployed or underemployed, undereducated, and often earning their money on the streets, they bore the scars of drug or alcohol abuse, troubled family lives, and arrest records. Among those of African American and Hispanic descent, many felt a deep-rooted distrust of the mainstream economy. The Parents Fair Share Program offered these men the chance not only to learn the social skills needed for stable employment but to participate in discussions about personal difficulties, racism, and problems in their relationships with their children and families.
Fathers' Fair Share details the program's mix of employment training services, peer support groups, and formal mediation of disputes between custodial and noncustodial parents. Equally important, the authors explore the effect of the participating fathers' expectations and doubts about the program, which were colored by their often negative views about the child support and family law system. The voices heard in Fathers' Fair Share provides a rare look into the lives of low-income fathers and how they think about their struggles and prospects, their experiences in the workplace, and their responsibilities toward their families. Parents Fair Share demonstrated that, in spite of their limited resources, these men are more likely to make stronger efforts to improve support payments and to become greater participants in their children's lives if they encounter a less adversarial and arbitrary enforcement system.
Fathers' Fair Share offers a valuable resource to the design of social welfare programs seeking to reach out to this little-understood population, and addresses issues of tremendous importance for those concerned about welfare reform, child support enforcement, family law, and employment policy.
EARL S. JOHNSON is research associate at the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, New York and San Francisco.
ANN LEVINE is a freelance writer and editor.
FRED C. DOOLITTLE is vice president and associate director of research at the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, New York and San Francisco.