Programs that Work
Parents' Fair Share
Fathers maintaining regular involvement with their children
Age of Child
Early Childhood (0-8)
Middle Childhood (9-12)
Type of Setting
Community-Based Service Provider
Type of Service
Type of Outcome Addressed
Poverty / Welfare
Evidence Level (What does this mean?)
The Parents' Fair Share (PFS) demonstration program, implemented from 1994 through 1996 (with an initial pilot phase from 1992 to 1994), was a national demonstration project authorized by the Family Support Act of 1988. PFS was designed and evaluated by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC). The goals of the program included helping unemployed, noncustodial parents (primarily fathers) to secure employment, pay child support, and participate more fully and responsibly as parents. The PFS program was designed as an alternative to standard child support enforcement. The program offered services in four areas: employment and training, modified child-support enforcement, peer support, and voluntary mediation services with the custodial parent.
PFS services were provided through newly developed coalitions of governmental child-support enforcement agencies, employment and training agencies at the state and community level, and private community service organizations. The PFS program was originally implemented in seven states, including Dayton (OH), Grand Rapids (MI), Jacksonville (FL), Los Angeles (CA), Memphis (TN), Springfield (MA), and Trenton (NJ). Most of the sites that continued the PFS program through to the end of the demonstration project adapted the original program model based on their initial experiences.
PFS was targeted at underemployed or unemployed noncustodial fathers who owed child support and had children who were receiving welfare. Specific eligibility criteria for PFS required that the noncustodial parent: (1) have a child-support order in place, (2) be behind in making payments, (3) be the parent of a child whose custodial parent had received public assistance for the child, (4) be unemployed or underemployed, and (5) have attended a court-ordered hearing for not paying child support.
Almost all participants (98 percent) were men living in or on the edge of poverty, and who had histories of sporadic employment. Their average age was 31 years, and over 80 percent were African American or Hispanic. Two-thirds of the participants had never been married, and 60 percent lived with a relative. Nearly 70 percent of the participants reported that since the age of 16, they had been arrested at least once on a charge unrelated to child support. Half of the participants did not have a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma, and only 2 percent had attended some college.
MDRC began the seven-site, large-scale evaluation of PFS in 1994. In three sites, the demonstration project involved random assignment of parents to treatment groups at two different stages. The first stage took place when nonpaying, noncustodial parents in welfare-related cases were identified as potential PFS referrals, at which point over 6,800 parents were randomly assigned to either an extra outreach group that was subject to extra outreach and case review or a standard group subject to the site's usual child support enforcement practices. In the second stage, noncustodial parents in the extra outreach group who appeared at a hearing or case review were judged as eligible for PFS and were randomly assigned to either the PFS program group (subject to PFS services and mandates) or a control group that did not receive those services and was subject to normal child support enforcement practices. Members of the control group were free to participate in other services in the community on their own initiative. In the remaining four sites, random assignment took place only at the second stage, after which noncustodial parents appeared for hearings or case reviews and were deemed eligible for PFS. Across all sites, approximately 5,600 noncustodial parents were randomly assigned to either the PFS program group or the control group.
Knox and Redcross (2000) continued the evaluation of PFS, assessing program effects on paternal child support and father's contact with youngest child. Levels of both "formal" child support (child support that is required by and paid directly to the child support enforcement system) and "informal" child support (support that is either cash or in-kind support that the noncustodial parent provides directly to the custodial parent) were measured. Data used in the analysis consisted of a sample of 2,005 custodial parents who responded to a follow-up survey. The survey sample included parents who were named in the child support cases of noncustodial parents who had been randomly assigned to either PFS or the control group. The survey was conducted approximately 12 months after the noncustodial parent's month of random assignment and had a response rate of 90 percent. In addition, a separate survey was administered to a random subset of noncustodial parents 12 months after program entry. A total of 553 noncustodial fathers responded to the survey, for a response rate of about 78 percent.
The final MDRC evaluation report (Martinez and Miller, 2000) assessed the effects of PFS on noncustodial parents' employment and earnings. The program effects were estimated for the full sample of noncustodial parents using data from the unemployment insurance system, as well as for the noncustodial parent survey results used in the Knox and Redcross (2000) report (which included a sample of 553 noncustodial parents).
Key Evaluation Findings
Knox and Redcross (2000) reported the following:
- Noncustodial parents in the PFS program group were significantly more likely to provide formal child support than were members of the control group (50.2 percent versus 43.4 percent, respectively). Furthermore, the average value of support provided during the six months prior to the survey was higher for the PFS parents ($397 versus $313).
- PFS did not change the likelihood that noncustodial parents would provide any informal child support. However, PFS did lead to a small reduction in the average value of informal support given during the six-month follow-up period, with control group parents giving significantly more ($149 versus $112).
- Overall, from the perspective of the custodial parents, the net result of PFS did not produce a detectable change in their total income as a result of child support payments.
- With respect to child contact, PFS did not lead to increases in the frequency or length of contact that noncustodial parents had with their children. However, site-specific analyses indicated that PFS was effective at increasing the occurrence of regular visits when it served families with relatively low visitation rates, i.e., significant results were seen in the two sites whose level of noncustodial parental involvement had significant room for improvement.
- For the full sample, PFS did not significantly increase noncustodial parents' employment or earnings during the two years after they entered the program. However, PFS did increase employment among noncustodial parents who might be characterized as "less employable"—those without a high school diploma and those with little recent work experience.
- For more-employable men, the program had little effect on average earnings and somewhat reduced employment among those who would have worked in part-time, lower-wage jobs.
State and local governmental child-support enforcement agencies, job placement and training agencies, private nonprofit service providers, and county welfare departments.
Demonstration project funders:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The Pew Charitable Trusts, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, U.S. Department of Labor, Smith Richardson Foundation, Ford Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, and the Northwest Area Foundation.
Key PFS program services include the following:
- Peer support groups
- Mediation to improve relations with custodial parents
- Employment and training services
- Enhanced child support enforcement
- Reduced child support obligations during the period of program participation.
In the demonstration sites, participation in the PFS services was greatest in the peer-support component (with about a 64 percent participation rate), followed by the job-search workshops (with a participation rate of approximately 57 percent). Peer support was judged by program staff to be the most effective component of the program. In contrast, mediation was rarely used, and only one site achieved a participation rate for mediation that exceeded 5 percent.
The PFS peer-support component was built around The Responsible Fatherhood Curriculum. All activities in the curriculum were designed to help encourage positive parental behavior and to inform participants about their rights and obligations as noncustodial parents. Each session was conducted in three parts and included activities that presented some new ideas to group members while helping them to think about these ideas through a discussion structured around a set of questions. The three parts of the session included:
- A beginning exercise called "What's New?"
- One or several activities that required the active involvement of the entire group.
- A closing activity called "Feedback/Wrap Up."
PFS program services were administered by the child support services agency at each site, a partnership of local community organizations, and employment and training providers. Across the seven PFS sites, two programs (in Florida and Massachusetts) were state administered through regional offices, and the remaining five sites were county administered. In four of the seven sites, local child support enforcement staff identified a special worker to monitor child support payments on all cases and to take appropriate enforcement actions.
Issues to Consider
This program received a "promising" rating. Noncustodial parents in the PFS program, who were almost exclusively fathers, were significantly more likely to pay child support than were noncustodial parents in the control group. Evaluation results suggest that the demonstrated increases in child support were more likely to be of a formal rather than informal nature. MDRC researchers suggest that one possible consequence of the design of the PFS program is that since many fathers provide support for their children through informal or in-kind payments, it is possible that fathers who are forced to pay through the formal system will reduce their informal contributions, resulting in no increase in total benefits to custodial parents.
Despite the increase in the percentage of noncustodial parents who paid child support, overall, parents who were referred to the PFS program did not pay higher dollar amounts than did parents in the standard child-support group.
Additionally, the PFS program had no significant effects on employment rates and earnings for the full sample of noncustodial fathers, although it did increase earnings for the least employable men. An important caveat to the results for the full sample is that they were obtained using data from jobs covered by the unemployment insurance system, which may miss any effects PFS might have had on informal employment or unreported earnings.
Overall results of the evaluations indicate that PFS was not successful in increasing the frequency or length of contact that fathers had with their children. Findings suggest that the program may be more successful at increasing the occurrence of regular parental visits for families with relatively low visitation rates at baseline.
It should be noted that MDRC was responsible for both the design and the evaluation of the Parents' Fair Share program.
Duval County (Jacksonville), Florida; Hampden County (Springfield), Massachusetts; Kent County (Grand Rapids), Michigan; Los Angeles County, California; Mercer County (Trenton), New Jersey; Montgomery County (Dayton), Ohio; and Shelby County (Memphis), Tennessee.
Missouri and Minnesota were among those states that had sites in the pilot study for this program, but the states did not continue with the full demonstration.
Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation
16 East 34th Street
New York, NY 10016
phone: (212) 532-3200
fax: (212) 684-0832
MDRC provides curriculum materials for The Responsible Fatherhood Curriculum used in the peer support groups, available online at http://www.mdrc.org/publications/40/abstract.html.
More details on the demonstration study and early stages of implementation of the project are available in the following publication:
Doolittle, Fred, and Suzanne Lynn, Working with Low-Income Cases: Lessons for the Child Support Enforcement System from Parents' Fair Share, Oakland, Calif.: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, May 1998. Available online at http://www.mdrc.org/publications/144/overview.html (as of August 30, 2006).
Final lessons and an overall summary of the PFS program model and evaluations are provided in:
Miller, Cynthia, and Virginia Knox, The Challenge of Helping Low-Income Fathers Support Their Children: Final Lessons from Parents' Fair Share, Oakland, Calif.: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, November 2001. Available online at http://www.mdrc.org/publications/104/overview.html (as of August 30, 2006).
Doolittle, Fred, Virginia Knox, Cynthia Miller, and Sharon Rowser,
Building Opportunities, Enforcing Obligations: Implementation and Interim Impacts of Parents' Fair Share,
Oakland, Calif.: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, December 1998.
Knox, Virginia, and Cindy Redcross, Parenting and Providing: The Impact of Parents' Fair Share on Paternal Involvement, Oakland, Calif.: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, October 2000. Accessed August 30, 2006 at http://www.mdrc.org/publications/38/abstract.html.
Martinez, John M., and Cynthia Miller, Working and Earning: The Impact of Parents' Fair Share on Low-Income Fathers' Employment, Oakland, Calif.: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, October 2000. Accessed August 30, 2006 at http://www.mdrc.org/publications/39/abstract.html.