Giving Noncustodial Parents Options: Employment and Child Support Outcomes of the SHARE Program. Introduction


In recent years, policymakers and program administrators have increasingly focused on the role of noncustodial parents (NCPs) in the lives of low-income families. Increasing the payment of child support for children in these families is now commonly acknowledged as an important element of efforts to reduce poverty and welfare dependency, as well as to promote personal responsibility. Although the failure of some NCPs to pay support may stem from a lack of commitment to their children, research shows that about one-quarter of all NCPs fail to pay support because they are poor and cannot afford to make payments, rather than because they do not want to (Sorensen and Zibman 2001). This finding has led states and localities to implement strategies to help economically disadvantaged NCPs increase their employment and earnings, and thus their ability to meet their child support obligations. Although the national Welfare-to-Work (WtW) grants program primarily targets recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), it has been an important vehicle for states and localities to provide employment, training, and support services to NCPs.

This report examines a special initiative, called Support Has A Rewarding Effects (SHARE), that operated with WtW grant support and targeted NCPs in three counties in the state of Washington.SHARE offered three options to NCPs whose children were receiving TANF and who were in arrears on their support obligations: (1) start paying support, (2) enroll in a WtW program, or (3) face possible incarceration. The main objective of this study was to examine the employment, earnings, and child support outcomes from this innovative collaboration involving the welfare system, child support enforcement agencies, the workforce investment system, and employment and training providers. Table I.1 summarizes our main findings.


Table I.1
Key Findings from the SHARE Outcomes Study
  • NCPs took different paths through SHARE. About half of the NCPs appeared at a mandatory hearing at which the program was explained to them. Many NCPs never learned about SHARE because staff could not locate them, and some were incarcerated or had moved. Two-thirds (172) of those who appeared at a SHARE hearing were referred to a WtW provider for employment services. Most of the remaining one-third opted to find employment and/or resume paying child support on their own.
  • NCPs worked more, earned more, and paid more child support after referral to SHARE than before. The employment rate amongall NCPs referred to SHARE increased from one-quarter just before referral to one-third in the quarter of referral, and remained above one-third for the following nine quarters. Average earnings increased 39 percent between the quarter immediately preceding referral and the quarter of referral, and continued to climb. The rate of child support payment nearly doubled just after referral, and it consistently exceeded pre-referral highs.
  • Outcomes improved for NCPs who took part in SHARE, but also for those who did not. NCPs who appeared at a hearing and learned about SHARE had higher employment rates, average earnings, and child support payments than NCPs who never appeared at such a hearing. Among NCPs who appeared at a SHARE hearing, those referred to WtW services and those not referred had comparable employment rates, but NCPs referred to WtW earned less. Similarly, NCPs referred to WtW and NCPs not referred to WtW were equally likely to pay child support following referral, but NCPs referred to WtW paid less.
  • SHARE probably contributed to the observed increases in employment, earnings, and child support payments. Factors other than SHAREВ  such as unobserved characteristics of the NCPs or natural ebbs and flows in their employment and ability to pay supportВ  probably played some role in the outcomes observed. However, differences in key outcomes for NCPs who took different paths through the initiativeВ  insignificant before referral to SHAREВ  become more marked and significant after referral to the program. This suggests that all or some of SHARE's componentsВ  service of a summons, the threat of incarceration, the possibility of renegotiating obligations and arrears, WtW services, and ongoing compliance monitoringВ  may have played a role in the observed improvements for NCPs who did engage in the initiative. More rigorous evaluation of such initiatives could help clarify how programs like SHARE affect outcomes.


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