Abstract: Estimating the Impact of Child Support and Welfare Policies on Fathers' Involvement (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12628 Estimating the Impact of Child Support and Welfare Policies on Fathers' Involvement

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 9:00 AM
Seacliff D (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Kelly S. Mikelson, PhD , University of Texas at Austin, Assistant Professor, Austin, TX
Background/Purpose: In recent years, U.S. policymakers have sought to increase the role of fathers, particularly unwed fathers, in their children's lives. Strengthening child support enforcement (CSE), increasing paternity establishment, and marriage promotion policies all seek to increase fathers' involvement. Concurrent welfare reform policy changes have resulted in reduced caseloads, time limited benefits, and increased work requirements for welfare recipients thereby inducing parents to meet their children's economic needs. Despite these policy changes, little empirical evidence exists to measure whether and how these changes have altered fathers' involvement. This paper attempts to fill that gap by disentangling the effects of state-level CSE and welfare policies on fathers' involvement, controlling for fathers' individual characteristics. In particular, this paper examines whether these policies have increased fathers' involvement in the material support provided for and emotional involvement and time spent with their children.

Methods: This study uses three waves of data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS), a large-scale, nationally-representative, longitudinal survey, to investigate the effect of CSE and welfare policies on fathers' involvement with their young children over time. Baseline interviews (at the time of the child's birth) were conducted with 4,898 mothers and 3,830 fathers in 20 United States cities (15 states) between February 1998 and November 2000. Follow-up interviews were conducted at approximately one, three, and five years old. Fathers' involvement is operationalized as accessibility, responsibility, and engagement. For outcome one (accessibility) and three (engagement), we use longitudinal models to estimate the effect of both policy variables and individual characteristics on the fathers' involvement variables. For accessibility, we use three discrete measures of living arrangements (i.e., married, cohabiting, and separate). For engagement, we use continuous measures of fathers' frequency of involvement or engagement in various activities and use a random intercept and slope model. For outcome two (responsibility), we use a multinomial logistic model with the dependent variable measuring material support (responsibility) (i.e., resident father, formal support agreement, informal support agreement, and no support agreement) in year-1.

Results: This paper finds that public policies influence fathers' involvement after controlling for individual's social and demographic characteristics. For example, daily engagement, is positively affected by a stronger paternity establishment policy but is negatively affected by a stronger CSE collection policy and the family cap policy under welfare reform. Our results show that stronger CSE may be reducing marriage, cohabitation, and fathers' frequency of involvement, although it does increase a father's material support. Therefore, both child support and welfare policies, with some minor exceptions, are having unintended negative consequences of reducing fathers' involvement with their young children, through living arrangements and fathers' engagement. Policies may be operating in conflicting ways to both increase and decrease fathers' involvement with their children.

Implications: First, while the effect of public policies is muted by fathers' individual characteristics, policies do influence fathers' involvement with their children. Second, policies may be operating in conflicting ways to both increase and decrease fathers' involvement. Thus, policymakers may be required to make tradeoffs between different aspects of fathers' involvement.