PRWORA and other welfare reform legislation promote child support enforcement, encourage responsible fatherhood, and seek to decrease out-of-wedlock births. In Indian country, with some notable exceptions, progress toward these three goals has been slow, in part because it is commonly believed that noncustodial parents are unemployed or underemployed and unable to contribute child support. Few noncustodial parents were served in the programs visited for this study. WtW programs either did not have, or were just beginning to establish, links with other programs/agencies that serve noncustodial parents (for example, child support agencies, courts, jails/prisons, and substance abuse programs). If WtW programs are to help custodial parents toward self-sufficiency, it is important to enhance the employability of noncustodial parents and connect them where possible with their children. Progress toward these two objectives could promote noncustodial parents' financial and emotional contributions to their children's well-being.
Tribal WtW programs need to assess program models and strategies for serving noncustodial parents and increasing the likelihood that they can make a financial contribution to the upbringing of their children. Research has long shown that one-parent households--without the financial contribution of another adult--have a much more difficult time moving out of poverty and welfare dependency. Tribal programs should look for ways to recruit and serve noncustodial parents. Such programs often need to employ different recruitment strategies and offer a slightly different blend of services than programs targeting custodial parents. (2) Considerable care must be given to how noncustodial parents can be most effectively recruited for such initiatives because recent experience has demonstrated that noncustodial parents (especially those with child support arrearages) are difficult to recruit and, once recruited, are difficult to retain in programs.
One strategy that WtW programs have adopted for recruiting noncustodial parents is to coordinate with child support enforcement programs. Noncustodial parents involved with the child support enforcement program typically need help finding or upgrading employment. The Navajo Nation provides an example of how such a link can be structured. It negotiated cooperative agreements between the tribal child support enforcement program and the states of Arizona and New Mexico to locate noncustodial parents, obtain default and other judgments, and collect child support in accordance with decisions of tribal courts. Under this initiative, Arizona provides funding and technical support for the development of the program and helps the tribe recover child support from noncustodial parents living away from the reservation. The Arizona child support enforcement office determines if the noncustodial parent is employed in the state; if so, the state implements procedures that include contacting the noncustodial parent and, if the custodial parent does not object, garnishing a portion of the noncustodial parent's wages in accordance with the tribal court order. Arizona forwards the child support funds it collected to the tribal child support enforcement program.
Another alternative for WtW programs is to establish or coordinate with a local responsible fatherhood initiative. In just the past five years, there has been a groundswell of support at the federal and state levels for the establishment of responsible fatherhood programs to help noncustodial fathers connect (or reconnect) with their children. Such programs provide education, employment, training, and support services to enhance employability similar to those services that WtW programs aimed at custodial parents provide. In recent years, WtW has provided funding to establish and expand these initiatives in many localities across the country. Such programs also often provide services that help noncustodial parents establish paternity, modify child support orders, renegotiate arrearage payments, and improve access and visitation. Many national organizations, as well as agencies within DHHS, can provide information about how to initiate local responsible fatherhood initiatives.