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Partners for Fragile Families (PFF) Demonstration Projects: Employment and Child Support Outcomes And Trends

Publication Date

Prepared for:U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation

Office of Human Services Policy

Contract Number 100-01-0027

By: Karin Martinson, Demetra Smith Nightingale, Pamela A. Holcomb, Burt S. Barnow, and John Trutko The Urban Institute


This report was prepared at the Urban Institute for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. This report was produced under the direction of Jennifer Burnszynski and Linda Mellgren, Project Officers, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, Office of Human Services Policy, Melissa Pardue, Deputy Assistant Secretary.

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization. Karin Martinson and Pamela Holcomb are senior research associates with the Urban Institute. Demetra Smith Nightingale and Burt S. Barnow are principal research scientists at the Institute for Policy Studies at Johns Hopkins University. John Trutko is president of Capital Research Corporation. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.


Many individuals assisted in conducting the study and producing this report. The authors gratefully acknowledge the oversight and guidance provided by our project officer, Jennifer Burnszynski and to David Arnaudo of the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) at DHHS for his ongoing commitment to the study. We are also highly indebted to Linda Mellgren of ASPE who provided valuable comments on earlier drafts of this report. The report benefited greatly from the editing skills of Fiona Blackshaw. Finally, the authors are especially grateful to PFF and state child support agency staff who assisted us in obtaining the data for this report. We sincerely thank them for their time and cooperation.


The employment and child support payment trends presented here should be interpreted cautiously owing to the small number of participants in some projects, as well as the lack of a control group to precisely estimate the effects of PFF, both for individual projects and the demonstration as a while.

The analyses show that most PFF participants fared poorly in the labor market, as measured using UI records.  Consistent with other research on young fathers with similar characteristics and served by similar programs, only about half the PFF participants worked in any given quarter (before or after enrolling in PFF).(9)  In addition, although their earnings increased from about $1,900 a quarter one year after enrolling in the program to about $2,500 a quarter two years after enrollment, young fathers remained relatively low income, with the quarterly earnings reflecting an annualized income amount of about $10,000.  Thus, as in the pre-program period, some fathers in this study worked during the two year follow-up period, but some did not; the average earnings for those who worked remained low.

The relatively low economic outcomes for PFF participants suggests that the appropriate intensity and mix of skills development and supportive services to address other employment barriers was not achieved by these child support-related employment services demonstrations.

Child support outcomes were more positive for PFF participants, especially in light of the very modest employment gains.  Although we cannot directly attribute the results to PFF, there was a notable increase in the proportion of fathers who established a child support order over the follow-up period. The proportion of fathers who made at least one payment remained high (at 80 percent) even though the number of fathers who established orders increased. More promising is the finding that the number of payments and the cumulative amount of child support paid increased overall and in most of the sites.

There is still room for improvement here as well, however.  A majority of PFF participants did not have child support orders two years after enrollment. This report is unable to address whether the lack of award establishment is because the formal child support system moves slowly or because some of these PFF participants were not part of the formal system.  For example, this demonstration took place while welfare rolls were decreasing, and some custodial mothers may have been on TANF or have made application for IV-D services. Additionally, although consistent with their low earnings, some PFF participants made no payments, and none appeared to make payments in every month.  Nonetheless, the results suggest that offering low-income fathers support services, such as peer support and parenting and family strengthening education and skills, may hold some promise for improving child support outcomes even in the absence of improvements in employment and earnings.


9.  See Jessica Pearson, Nancy Thoennes, Lanae Davis, Jane Venohr, David Price, and Tracy Griffith, "OCSE Responsible Fatherhood Programs:  Client Characteristics and Program Outcomes, Center for Policy Research, Denver, July 2003.

Families with Children
Cash and Counseling Demonstration