Giving Noncustodial Parents Options: Employment and Child Support Outcomes of the SHARE Program. What Can We Conclude from These Findings?

10/01/2003

Trends in employment, earnings, and child support payments change around the time of referral to SHARE. The pre-post referral patterns for all NCPs in this study suggest that something is happening during the quarter of referral toSHARE or during the quarter after referral to reverse the pre-referral trends in declining employment, earnings, and child support payments. Because the quarter of referral is a different calendar quarter for each sample member, occurring within a span of more than three years, it is unlikely that a specific point-in-time event or phenomenon, such as the institution of new child support enforcement policies or an improvement in the economy, contributed to the immediate and substantial increases in outcomes after referral.

Figure III.8 Rates of Child Support Payment over Time, by Participation in SHARE

Source: Administrative data from state of Washington (as of March 2003).
NCP = noncustodial parent; Q0 = quarter of referral to SHARE; WtW = Welfare-to-Work.

Figure III.9 Average Child Support Collections over Time, by Participation in SHARE

Source: Administrative data from state of Washington (as of March 2003).
Q0 = quarter of referral to SHARE; WtW = Welfare-to-Work.

A variety of factors, including normal fluctuations, likely contributed to the increases in employment, earnings, and child support payments after referral to SHARE. The post-referral increases in employment, earnings, and child support are observed, although much more modestly, even for NCPs who never appeared at a contempt hearing. It is unlikely that SHARE had much influence on these NCPs, as they had little exposure to the initiative.(19) Rather, factors other than the SHARE program probably contributed to the pre-post patterns observed for this group. These same external factors may have affected the pre-post patterns of other groups of NCPs as well. For instance, it is possible that the observed patterns reflect normal fluctuations in the labor market experiences and child support payment patterns of NCPs. In the quarter before their referral, the NCPs referred toSHARE appear as individuals to be going through a particularly bad period with regard to employment and their ability to pay child support. The observed increases during the quarter of referral and after that quarter are likely to reflect some degree of natural recovery from this low.

Differences in pre-referral unobserved characteristics may have influenced the paths NCPs took and the outcomes they achieved. The distribution of NCPs into various groups after referral to SHARE probably was not random. Rather, NCPs in certain circumstances or of particular dispositions may have had a higher propensity to appear at their hearings than did other NCPs, and some NCPs likely had a relatively greater need for WtW services. Traces of these differences among NCPs in the study are observed before referral to SHARE, although in most cases the differences are not large enough to be statistically significant. For instance, it seems that NCPs who did not appear at hearings may have been the most disadvantaged NCPs in the sample. Before referral toSHARE, their employment rates, average earnings, child support payment rates, and average collections were lower than those of any other group. Perhaps parents who failed to heed the summons to appear in court (or who did not receive the summons because they could not be located) were least likely to have characteristics associated with socioeconomic success and, in turn, were least likely to have positive outcomes when referral to SHARE did not result in any intervention.

Nonetheless,the carrots and sticks built into the SHARE initiative appear to have influenced some NCPs. Preexisting differences in the employment, earnings, and support outcomes of NCPs who appeared at their hearings and of NCPs who did not appear at their hearings clearly become magnified after referral to SHARE. This widening of the gap in outcomes suggests that SHARE may have played a role in the improvements for NCPs engaged in the initiative. The consequences for failing to meet their obligations, which were presented at the contempt hearings, may have motivated some of the NCPs who appeared at the hearings to improve their economic situations and meet their obligations more than they would have otherwise. This would especially be true if the NCPs had good employment prospects and much to lose by becoming incarcerated and establishing a criminal record. Similarly, the alternatives offered at the contempt hearings  such as renegotiation of support orders or even forgiveness of arrears  may have reduced the incentives for some NCPs to work few hours or hide their earnings. They may have also motivated some NCPs who were working in the underground economy before referral to SHARE to move into formal jobs after referral.(20)

It is also possible that WtW services contributed to higher post-referral rates of child support payment and to lower earnings among NCPs referred for services. YCPA staff regularly monitored and reviewed payments made by WtW participants, and this close scrutiny could have prompted additional payments. Lower earnings among the NCPs referred for WtW services could reflect the time that these SHARE participants spent in WtW activities, which would have reduced their availability to work. It is also possible that the NCPs referred for WtW services were systematically more disadvantaged than those who appeared for hearings but were not referred for WtW services. Their lower average earnings may reflect important differences in their educational and employment background and, hence, in their income earning potential. In the end, however, it is not possible in this study to explore such potential systematic differences among NCPs targeted for participation in SHARE, nor to determine how any of these NCPs would have behaved or fared without SHARE.

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