Connecting Parents to Occupational Training

A Partnership Between Child Support Agencies and Local Service Providers

By Kyla Wasserman, Lily Freedman, Zaina Rodney, Caroline Schultz

The Families Forward Demonstration (FFD) examined new strategies to increase the earnings of parents who owe child support but are unable to fully meet their obligations due to low earnings. Operated by child support agencies in five jurisdictions across the country from 2018 to 2020, FFD sought to integrate employment and training services into existing public child support programs. The FFD program included free occupational skill-building activities, to help parents qualify for higher-paying jobs, as well as employment services and wraparound supports. It also focused on “responsive” child support services that helped parents understand their support obligations, and even suspended certain enforcement actions while parents participated in the program.

This report presents the findings from the implementation and outcome studies of FFD.

Key Findings

  • When tailoring the FFD model to the local context, each child support agency leveraged flexibility within its existing policies to design its child support services. This included assigning dedicated FFD child support workers to the program. These staff members were also encouraged to consider participants’ employment and training activities when deciding how or whether to apply enforcement measures that were already under the discretion of their agency.
  • Recruiting parents to FFD and determining whether they would be eligible for the program was a labor- and time-intensive process. The programs struggled with recruitment for an array of reasons, including parents’ negative perceptions of child support, the agencies’ limited experience with recruitment, and a lack of alignment between parents’ interests and the service offerings.
  • Nearly all parents enrolled in the study received some responsive child support services. This customer service–oriented approach made a positive impression on parents and child support staff alike, improving parents’ perception of child support and facilitating communication between the agency and participants.
  • Almost 60 percent of study enrollees started an occupational skills training program. Among these parents, 70 percent completed training but less than half of them were employed at some point during the first six months after study enrollment.
  • Following study enrollment, parents’ monthly child support order amounts declined, reversing upward trends prior to study enrollment. Additionally, parents were more likely to make a monthly payment and their monthly total payment amounts increased, reversing steady or downward trends prior to study enrollment. Together, decreasing order amounts and increasing payments resulted in increasing compliance rates after study enrollment, relative to declining trends prior to enrollment.

While more rigorous testing is needed, the FFD model shows some promise for connecting parents to jobs in their chosen career path and for improving their compliance with their child support obligations. However, the program would benefit from addressing operational challenges around recruitment and service delivery to scale up and serve a greater number of parents.

Wasserman, Kyla, Lily Freedman, Zaina Rodney, and Caroline Schultz. 2021. Connecting Parents to Occupational Training. New York: MDRC.