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Parents' Fair Share
Last registered on February 28, 2017

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
Parents' Fair Share
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0002039
Initial registration date
February 28, 2017
Last updated
February 28, 2017 4:47 PM EST
Location(s)
Region
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
MDRC
Other Primary Investigator(s)
Additional Trial Information
Status
Completed
Start date
1994-03-01
End date
2001-11-01
Secondary IDs
Abstract
Fathers provide important financial and emotional support to their children. Yet low-income noncustodial fathers, with low wages and high rates of joblessness, often do not fulfill their parenting roles. The child support system has not traditionally helped these men to do so, since its focus has been on securing financial support from fathers who can afford to pay. Meanwhile, fathers who cannot pay child support accumulate debts that can lead them to evade the system and its penalties altogether--and further limit their contact with their children.

Parents' Fair Share (PFS) was designed as an alternative to standard enforcement. Launched in 1994 in seven sites, PFS was a national demonstration program that aimed to help low-income noncustodial fathers find more stable and better-paying jobs, pay child support on a consistent basis, and become more involved parents. Funded by the organizations listed at the front of this monograph, PFS provided employment and training services, peer support groups, voluntary mediation between parents, and modified child support enforcement.

Besides designing the PFS demonstration, MDRC evaluated it. Between 1994 and 1996, each of more than 5,500 fathers was randomly assigned to PFS or a control group, and the program's effects were estimated by comparing how the two groups fared over a two-year period.

Key Findings

-- As a group, the fathers were very disadvantaged, although some were able to find low-wage work fairly easily. PFS increased employment and earnings for the least-employable men but not for the men who were more able to find work on their own. Most participated in job club services, but fewer than expected took part in skill-building activities.

-- PFS encouraged some fathers, particularly those who were least involved initially, to take a more active parenting role. Many of the fathers visited their children regularly, although few had legal visitation agreements. There were modest increases in parental conflict over child-rearing decisions, and some mothers restricted the fathers' access to their children.

-- Men referred to the PFS program paid more child support than men in the control group. The process of assessing eligibility uncovered a fair amount of employment, which disqualified some fathers from participation but which led, nonetheless, to increased child support payments.
Registration Citation
Citation
Miller, Cynthia. 2017. "Parents' Fair Share." AEA RCT Registry. February 28. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.2039-1.0.
Former Citation
Miller, Cynthia. 2017. "Parents' Fair Share." AEA RCT Registry. February 28. http://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/2039/history/14533.
Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
To be eligible for Parents' Fair Share (PFS), fathers had to be under- or unemployed and have child support orders in place but not be making regular payments. In addition, the children for whom they owed support had to be current or past recipients of welfare. In most cases, the men were referred to the program during court hearings or appointments scheduled by child support agencies. Some hearings were part of normal child support practice, and some were held specifically to determine whether nonpaying fathers were eligible for PFS. For the men who were referred to the program, participation in the PFS core activities was mandatory, and fathers were expected to participate until they found a job and started paying child support. Those who failed to participate were referred back to the child support agency for follow-up, which sometimes led to an additional court hearing. The PFS program comprised four key components:

-- Peer support. Structured around a “Responsible Fatherhood Curriculum” and run by trained facilitators, peer support sessions covered a range of topics, including parental roles and responsibilities, relationships, managing anger, and coping with problems on the job. The purpose of peer support was to inform participants about their rights and obligations as noncustodial fathers, to teach positive parenting skills, and to teach skills designed to help them stay employed.

-- Employment and training. This component was designed to help the fathers secure long-term, stable jobs at wage rates that would allow them to support themselves and their children. Program sites were encouraged to offer a variety of services, including job search assistance, job club sessions, skills training, basic education, and on-the-job training.

-- Enhanced child support enforcement. Although the child support system already had the means to enforce payments, local child support agencies in each site were asked to go beyond their traditional way of doing business. The biggest change was to focus more attention on cases that had typically received low priority — low-income, unemployed men. Sites were also expected to institute several new procedures, such as lowering the fathers’ child support orders while they participated in PFS, coordinating with PFS service providers, and quickly modifying support orders when the fathers found employment or failed to comply with PFS requirements.

-- Mediation. A father’s payment of child support and involvement with his children are influenced by his relationship with the custodial mother, which often includes disagreements about visits, household spending, child rearing, and the roles of other adults in the household. Sites were required to provide services, modeled on those used in divorce cases, to help parents mediate such differences. Participation in this component was voluntary.
Intervention Start Date
1994-03-01
Intervention End Date
1998-06-30
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Employment, earnings, child support payments, fathers' involvement with their children
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
The evaluation of Parent's Fair Share (PFS) included more than 5,000 fathers in the program’s target population. Starting in 1994, each one was randomly assigned to the PFS group, which was required to participate in the program, or to a control group.

PFS operated in seven sites:
-- Dayton, Ohio
-- Grand Rapids, Michigan
-- Jacksonville, Florida
-- Los Angeles, California
-- Memphis, Tennessee
-- Springfield, Massachusetts
-- Trenton, New Jersey

The program’s effects were assessed using unemployment insurance records, child support agency records, and surveys of a subset of fathers in the study and the custodial mothers of their children.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
MDRC algorithm
Randomization Unit
individual
Was the treatment clustered?
No
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
n/a
Sample size: planned number of observations
5,020 men
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
2,495 men control, 2,525 men Parents' Fair Share
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Post-Trial
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Intervention
Is the intervention completed?
No
Is data collection complete?
Yes
Data Collection Completion Date
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
5,020 men
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
2,495 men control, 2,525 men Parents' Fair Share
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
No
Program Files
Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials
Relevant Paper(s)
Abstract
Over the past 25 years, policymakers have come to acknowledge the link between lack of child support and the pressing problem of child poverty for a broad range of American families. With over 20 million children under age 18 now living with only one parent or neither parent, there is an urgency to develop more effective methods for obtaining support from noncustodial parents. Much of the public concern about child support has focused on the noncustodial parents (usually fathers) of children receiving welfare, a group for whom earnings and support payments tend to be low. Interest in these families has also been heightened by recent changes in federally funded public assistance, which are gradually leading states to impose various time limits on aid. Since poor families will have to rely even more on nongovernment sources of income in the future, their stake in successful child support enforcement (CSE) has dramatically increased.

The noncustodial parents of children receiving welfare have largely been left out of the reform debate and programmatic initiatives, except as targets of increasing CSE efforts. Unfortunately for poor families, most of the recent CSE reforms have been more effective in increasing collections from noncustodial parents with relatively stable jobs and residence; many of the fathers of children receiving welfare do not fall within this group.

The Parents’ Fair Share (PFS) Demonstration tests a new approach: in exchange for current and future cooperation with the child support system, a partnership of local organizations offered fathers services designed to help them (1) find more stable and better-paying jobs, (2) pay child support on a consistent basis, and (3) assume a fuller and more responsible parental role. Among the key services were peer support (focused on issues of responsible parenting), employment and training services, and an offer of voluntary mediation between the custodial and noncustodial parents. During the period in which parents participated in PFS services, the child support system gave them some “breathing room” and an incentive to invest in themselves by temporarily lowering their current obligation to pay support. CSE staff also closely monitored the status of PFS cases. When a parent found employment, CSE staff were to act quickly to raise the support order to an appropriate level (based on the state’s child support payment guidelines), and if a parent ceased to cooperate with PFS program requirements, CSE staff were to act quickly to enforce the pre-PFS child support obligation. The demonstration is a test of the feasibility of implementing this new “bargain” and its effects on parents, children, and the child support system.

PFS rests on an unusual partnership of funders and program operators, including federal agencies, private foundations, states, localities, and nonprofit community-based organizations. Organized by MDRC, it began in 1992 with a pilot phase to refine the program model and test the feasibility of implementing it at the local level and, despite a variety of implementation challenges, moved into a seven-site demonstration phase in 1994.

This report presents findings from the demonstration-phase implementation of the program, characteristics of the parents in the sample, and early impacts on two outcomes of interest (fathers’ earnings and child support payments).
Citation
Doolittle, Fred, Virginia Knox, Cynthia Miller, and Sharon Rowser. 1998. Building Opportunities, Enforcing Obligations: Implementation and Interim Impacts of Parents' Fair Share. New York: MDRC.
Abstract
Fathers provide important financial and emotional support to their children. Yet low-income noncustodial fathers, with low wages and high rates of joblessness, often do not fulfill their parenting roles. The child support system has not traditionally helped these men to do so, since its focus has been on securing financial support from fathers who can afford to pay. Meanwhile, fathers who cannot pay child support accumulate debts that can lead them to evade the system and its penalties altogether--and further limit their contact with their children.

Parents' Fair Share (PFS) was designed as an alternative to standard enforcement. Launched in 1994 in seven sites, PFS was a national demonstration program that aimed to help low-income noncustodial fathers find more stable and better-paying jobs, pay child support on a consistent basis, and become more involved parents. Funded by the organizations listed at the front of this monograph, PFS provided employment and training services, peer support groups, voluntary mediation between parents, and modified child support enforcement.

Besides designing the PFS demonstration, MDRC evaluated it. Between 1994 and 1996, each of more than 5,500 fathers was randomly assigned to PFS or a control group, and the program's effects were estimated by comparing how the two groups fared over a two-year period. This monograph synthesizes the demonstration's key findings and uses them to formulate several recommendations for the next generation of fatherhood programs.

Key Findings

As a group, the fathers were very disadvantaged, although some were able to find low-wage work fairly easily. PFS increased employment and earnings for the least-employable men but not for the men who were more able to find work on their own. Most participated in job club services, but fewer than expected took part in skill-building activities.

PFS encouraged some fathers, particularly those who were least involved initially, to take a more active parenting role. Many of the fathers visited their children regularly, although few had legal visitation agreements. There were modest increases in parental conflict over child-rearing decisions, and some mothers restricted the fathers' access to their children.

Men referred to the PFS program paid more child support than men in the control group. The process of assessing eligibility uncovered a fair amount of employment, which disqualified some fathers from participation but which led, nonetheless, to increased child support payments.

Recommendations for Future Programs

How to increase employment and earnings: Structure the program to encourage longer-term participation and to include job-retention services. Provide the fathers who cannot find private sector employment with community service jobs or stipends, or combine part-time work with training. Use providers who have experience working with very disadvantaged clients. Earmark adequate funding for employment services.

How to increase parental involvement: Increase fathers' access to their children by involving custodial mothers in the programs and providing the fathers with legal services to gain visitation rights. Be aware of the potential for increased parental conflict.

How to increase child support payments: Mandate fathers' participation in employment-related activities to increase payments among low-income caseloads. Encourage active partnership of fatherhood programs with the child support system.
Citation
Miller, Cynthia, and Virginia Knox. 2001. The Challenge of Helping Low-Income Fathers Support Their Children: Final Lessons from Parents’ Fair Share. New York: MDRC.
Abstract
For the past two decades, the nation's efforts to reform the welfare system and the child support system have often proceeded on separate tracks. However, there has been a growing realization that neither has very explicitly considered how to work with the group of men who bridge them both: low-income noncustodial fathers whose children receive welfare. The Parents' Fair Share (PFS) Demonstration, run from 1994 to 1996, was aimed at increasing the ability of these fathers to attain well-paying jobs, increase their child support payments, and to increase their involvement in parenting in other ways. These reports--one examining the effectiveness of the PFS approach at increasing fathers' financial and nonfinancial involvement with their children and the other examining the effectiveness of the PFS approach at increasing fathers' employment and earnings--provide important insights into policies aimed at this key group.
Citation
Knox, Virginia, and Cindy Redcross. 2000. Parenting and Providing: The Impact of Parents' Fair Share on Paternal Involvement. New York: MDRC.
Abstract
For the past two decades, the nation's efforts to reform the welfare system and the child support system have often proceeded on separate tracks. However, there has been a growing realization that neither has very explicitly considered how to work with the group of men who bridge them both: low-income noncustodial fathers whose children receive welfare. The Parents' Fair Share (PFS) Demonstration, run from 1994 to 1996, was aimed at increasing the ability of these fathers to attain well-paying jobs, to increase their child support payments, and to increase their involvement in parenting in other ways. These reports--one examining the effectiveness of the PFS approach at increasing fathers' financial and nonfinancial involvement with their children and the other examining the effectiveness of the PFS approach at increasing fathers' employment and earnings--provide some important insights into policies aimed at this key group.
Citation
Martinez, John M., and Cynthia Miller. 2000. Working and Earning: The Impact of Parents' Fair Share on Low-Income Fathers' Employment. New York: MDRC.
REPORTS & OTHER MATERIALS