Abstract: Extended Families and the Child Support Program (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Extended Families and the Child Support Program

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Independence BR B, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Angela Guarin, MSW, Postdoctoral Researcher, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia
Background: Families with children have become increasingly complex in the U.S. In addition to parental relationships being unstable, children are increasingly likely to live with other related adults in the household. By 2014, about 17% of all U.S. children lived with an extended relative (Cross, 2018). Extended-family arrangements are more common among disadvantaged individuals, including single mothers (Pilkauskas, 2012). Despite these changes, little is known about how family policies, particularly child support, interact with these complex households, and the extent to which the presence of other related adults in the household has any effect on the noncustodial father’s (NCFs) financial contributions to their children. If fathers feel they can count on the support that the custodial mother (CM) is receiving from other household members, they may decide to reduce their financial support, impacting the CM’s economic well-being and raising economic justice concerns. 

Data/Methods: This paper draws on data from the March/April 2014 Current Population Survey (CPS)-Child Support Supplement (CSS). I use data on about 3,000 custodial mothers with a child under 18 years old of whom about 12% lived in an extended-family household. My primary dependent variables are mother’s reports of whether a child support arrangement is in place and its type, and the father’s cash (formal and informal) and in-kind contributions. I separately examine whether any cash support is provided, and the amount. In-kind contributions are measured with a series of binary variables indicating whether the noncustodial father has provided clothes, food, gifts, has paid for child care or summer camp, or for medical expenses.

Results: Descriptive findings show no significant differences in the likelihood of having a child support arrangement, or the type of arrangement. However, CMs who live in extended-family households are less likely to receive any cash support (33%) compared to those who did not live in extended households (43%). The mean amount of cash support received by those in extended family households was $984 compared to $1,886 for those not in extended households. Measures of informal support show a similar pattern of CMs in extended-family households being less likely to receive gifts (50% vs 59%), clothes (37% vs 46%), food (25% vs 33%), contributions to child care (9% vs 12%), and for medical expenses (16% vs 23%). I further investigate these findings to understand whether the lack of contributions for those in extended-family households is related to their lower economic status, or to the potential effect of other adults in the CM’s household.

Conclusions/Implications: Results demonstrate the potential for extended-family members to influence NCFs preferences in providing cash and in-kind support to CMs households, which are usually already financially disadvantaged. A better understanding of extended-family households and the financial resources available to them can inform social work practice, as economic stability is an important social justice issue, particularly for complex, marginalized households. I discuss the implications of my findings for child support policy, child well-being, and for understanding more complex children’s living arrangements that go beyond the nuclear family.