Framing the Future of Economic Security Evaluation Research for the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network
This report, published by the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network, offers a set of recommendations about how to build knowledge on effective programs and policies to improve the economic condition of disadvantaged fathers. The reasons for focusing on fathers are multifaceted. Less-educated men are more likely to become fathers at a relatively early age and opportunities for employment and higher earnings have declined for all less-educated workers in recent decades. This has implications for the wellbeing of both children and fathers since adequate and substantial financial resources afford access to higher-quality child care, books, and other resources that promote the healthy development of children as well as reduce parental stress and improve parenting. Further, many less-educated, young parents are unmarried and become involved in the child support system that uses highly automated enforcement tools. These tools are ineffective with nonresidential parents who are not steadily employed in the formal labor market and may actually discourage low- income nonresidential parents from working. Cognizant of this, child support agencies are increasingly looking beyond enforcement tools for ways to engage low-income nonresidential parents and provide or broker services to help them improve their economic circumstances and play positive roles as parents.
Previous and on-going evaluations of employment programs for fathers and disadvantaged men inform this research agenda. Several previous demonstrations and programs appear to have been at least moderately effective at increasing employment or earnings but firm conclusions cannot be drawn. Each of these programs offered a somewhat different mix of services and targeted different groups and some were evaluated using research methods that produce less definitive conclusions. Nonetheless, the numerous, on‐going evaluations of employment programs will undoubtedly expand the knowledge base of employment programs for fathers in the next few years. The on‐going studies focus on transitional jobs, child support‐led employment programs for unemployed nonresidential parents, employment models for ex-offenders and other disadvantaged groups, and an Earned Income Tax Credit for parents paying child support.
In the meantime, however, the report identifies four areas where additional research could shed light on important unanswered questions:
- Identify which types of employment services are most effective for which types of fathers.
- Determine which groups of fathers can benefit from combining employment services with other components of fatherhood programs and how the combination should best be structured.
- Target research to learn more about what works best for fathers who have multiple families and criminal records.
- Examine whether particular programmatic practices can improve engagement and retention in programs — or in jobs.
In all, there is some evidence that suggests employment programs for disadvantaged fathers do improve participants’ employment outcomes at least modestly, and there are a number of ongoing, rigorous studies that should greatly expand the evidence base in the next few years. In the meantime, narrower studies could address important questions about program design and program implementation, with a special focus on participant engagement, which has challenged most past programs.