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Fathers' Fair Share

Fathers' Fair Share: Helping Poor Men Manage Child Support and Fatherhood

Earl S. Johnson
Ann Levine
Fred C. Doolittle
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7758/9781610443203
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  • Book Info
    Fathers' Fair Share
    Book Description:

    One of the most challenging goals for welfare reformers has been improving the collection of child support payments from noncustodial parents, usually fathers. Often vilified as deadbeats who have dropped out of their children's lives, these fathers have been the target of largely punitive enforcement policies that give little consideration to the complex circumstances of these men's lives.

    Fathers' Fair Sharepresents an alternative to these measures with an in-depth study of the Parents Fair Share Program. A multi-state intervention run by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, the program was designed to better the life skills of nonpaying fathers with children on public assistance, in the belief that this would encourage them to improve their level of child support. The men chosen for the program frequently lived on the margins of society. Chronically unemployed or underemployed, undereducated, and often earning their money on the streets, they bore the scars of drug or alcohol abuse, troubled family lives, and arrest records. Among those of African American and Hispanic descent, many felt a deep-rooted distrust of the mainstream economy. The Parents Fair Share Program offered these men the chance not only to learn the social skills needed for stable employment but to participate in discussions about personal difficulties, racism, and problems in their relationships with their children and families.

    Fathers' Fair Sharedetails the program's mix of employment training services, peer support groups, and formal mediation of disputes between custodial and noncustodial parents. Equally important, the authors explore the effect of the participating fathers' expectations and doubts about the program, which were colored by their often negative views about the child support and family law system. The voices heard inFathers' Fair Shareprovides a rare look into the lives of low-income fathers and how they think about their struggles and prospects, their experiences in the workplace, and their responsibilities toward their families. Parents Fair Share demonstrated that, in spite of their limited resources, these men are more likely to make stronger efforts to improve support payments and to become greater participants in their children's lives if they encounter a less adversarial and arbitrary enforcement system.

    Fathers' Fair Shareoffers a valuable resource to the design of social welfare programs seeking to reach out to this little-understood population, and addresses issues of tremendous importance for those concerned about welfare reform, child support enforcement, family law, and employment policy.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-320-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Mercer L. Sullivan

    This book is about unknown men. More than forty years after Ralph Ellison’s (1952) great imaginative evocation of the invisibility of all African Americans and more than thirty years after Elliot Liebow’s (1968) classic ethnography of streetcorner men, men like those portrayed here are still seen by most people, if they are noticed at all, through the distorting lenses of stereotyping, scapegoating, and, at best, condescension.

    To say that is not to deny that many children with noncustodial fathers could be lifted out of poverty if their fathers provided adequate financial support or that this lack of paternal financial support...

  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Earl S. Johnson, Ann Levine and Fred C. Doolittle
  5. Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-17)

    To walk in another person’s shoes is to experience life as one would never experience it otherwise. This book introduces readers to men who, for various reasons, were unable to meet their child support obligations and consequently agreed to participate in a program called Parents’ Fair Share (PFS). The book introduces men like Geraldo and Jah, who looked to the program as an opportunity to enter a labor market that seemed ominous and impenetrable, and like Mack, whose guarded and suspicious approach toward the child support system masked an underlying fear—based on his experience with other public agencies—of...

  6. Chapter 2 THE PARTICIPANTS
    (pp. 18-57)

    Noncustodial fathers of children who receive welfare have long been neglected in studies of poverty and debates over public assistance. This qualitative study was designed to help fill that gap, not to prove or disprove specific hypotheses or to test a set of assumptions. Rather, the goal was to learn about thirty-two men, a small sample of the more than 5,500 noncustodial parents who participated in the Parents’ Fair Share demonstration. By listening to, observing, and interacting with these men, we hoped to better understand the challenges they faced and the choices they made. Whether their experiences and attitudes reflect...

  7. Chapter 3 THE WORLD OUTSIDE PFS: AN INSIDER’S VIEW
    (pp. 58-84)

    At one time or another, every man in the qualitative sample echoed Harry’s feelings of desolation, entrapment, hopelessness, and hardship. Such is the world in which these men must live, work, play, and survive. Others—notably William J. Wilson, in his recent bookWhen Work Disappears,which is set in Chicago—have analyzed how the lack of opportunities within the nation’s ghettos and isolation from the world outside the ghetto have pushed many African Americans out of the workforce and trapped them in socially and economically marginal environments. Poor Latino neighborhoods, although distinctive in some ways, exercise a similar undertow;...

  8. Chapter 4 THE NONCUSTODIAL PARENTS’ PERSPECTIVES ON CHILD SUPPORT AND THE CHILD SUPPORT SYSTEM
    (pp. 85-103)

    “I always see my kids” is a common assertion of the men in this sample. As shown in figure 2.2 in chapter 2, these economically poor NCPs reported having more contact with their children than the public and policymakers might expect of “deadbeat dads” who have not met their support obligations. How much contact is enough is another question.

    Taking the perspective of the poor noncustodial parent, this chapter examines two pivotal questions. First, does paying child support through the child support enforcement system make sense to low-income noncustodial parents? Second, does paying child support make NCPs feel more connected...

  9. Chapter 5 THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN: WALKING THROUGH THE DOORWAY OF PARENTS’ FAIR SHARE
    (pp. 104-132)

    What opportunities did Parents’ Fair Share offer to those noncustodial parents who chose to participate? Is this type of intervention able to serve individuals who bring with them a complex array of issues and problems that hinder their ability to gain or maintain meaningful employment? This chapter and the next examine the men’s experiences while in the PFS program. These chapters try to answer the two questions through the voices and perceptions of those who participated in the PFS intervention. This chapter focuses on participants’ experiences with the program portion of PFS, specifically the peer support component; chapter 6 examines...

  10. Chapter 6 THE EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING COMPONENT OF PFS: JOB CLUB/JOB SEARCH
    (pp. 133-150)

    The men in this study entered PFS not only because they were under court order but also because the program offered opportunities to become employed in jobs that paid good money. The expectation and excitement of some NCPs was a mirror image of the discouragement and despair of men unable to obtain “good jobs.”

    Willie: Why should a human race, a race of people—why should there even be a doubt there to even try to help these people? I mean, we ain’t talking about a bunch of goddamned birds. We’re talking about a race of human beings who are...

  11. Chapter 7 CONCLUSION
    (pp. 151-175)

    Inevitably, as noncustodial parents continued their efforts to make it in the world, Parents’ Fair Share faded in importance. This is not to say that NCPs never thought about their experience in PFS or that the program’s messages, lessons, and skills did not resonate with them. Rather, much of what the program offered takes time to translate into concrete, practical plans, strategies, and actions. In many ways, PFS challenged participants to reexamine their attitudes, beliefs, roles, and responsibilities. It is impossible to predict when these insights might take on concrete relevance in the men’s everyday lives. Yet, these NCPs had...

  12. APPENDIX A Sample, Data, and Research Methodology
    (pp. 176-184)
  13. APPENDIX B Maps
    (pp. 185-191)
  14. APPENDIX C List and Description of Peer Support Sessions
    (pp. 192-199)
  15. APPENDIX D Family Tree
    (pp. 200-203)
  16. APPENDIX E Personal Shields
    (pp. 204-206)
  17. APPENDIX F Profile of Two Participants Deciding How to Use Their Money
    (pp. 207-208)
  18. APPENDIX G Profiles of Selected Participants
    (pp. 209-212)
  19. APPENDIX H Questions for Noncustodial Parents in PFS
    (pp. 213-216)
  20. Appendix I PROFILE OF INTERVIEWEES
    (pp. 217-221)
  21. NOTES
    (pp. 222-227)
  22. REFERENCES
    (pp. 228-232)
  23. ABOUT THE AUTHORS
    (pp. 233-233)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 234-241)