Faculty at the Center for Health and Social Policy (CHASP) and the Child and Family Research Partnership (CFRP) are engaged in range of research projects that aspire to improve child and family outcomes. One particular area of focus at the Center is child support policy.
Many poor children live with a single parent and rely heavily on financial support from a noncustodial parent. On average, child support paid by a noncustodial parent contributes to about one-third of income among families receiving current support, and considerably more among families living below the poverty level. In this context, substantial declines in disadvantaged adult males’ employment and earnings in the last decade, exacerbated by the recent recession, have had direct and distressing consequences for poor families.
The most recent child support debt statistics tell us that nationwide, child support arrearages have grown to more than $111 billion. Unpaid child support debt not only reduces resources available to custodial families, but it also requires public Child Support Enforcement (CSE) agencies to expend more resources and increase enforcement actions for noncustodial parents. More public funds are spent today on CSE administrative expenditures than on federal government appropriations for workforce development programs.
Faculty and researchers working under the aegis of the Child and Family Research Partnership (CFRP), directed by Professor and CHASP faculty Cynthia Osborne, are conducting research with the goal of bridging research and policy, particularly in the areas of child support, family strengthening, adolescent development, and early childhood intervention. CFRP is engaged in innovative research and evaluation work with two primary partners: the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Child Support Division of the Attorney General’s office. One of CFRP’s newest projects involves developing a model to estimate the cost of raising a child in Texas. This research will inform the adequacy of the state’s child support guidelines, as well as provide a reference for policy makers and the public nationally.
You can read more about this research and other initiatives of CFRP on its website, including evaluations of the Texas Home Visiting program, Texas Child Support for College Program (CS4C), the HEROES (Help Establishing Orders Ensuring Support) for Children in Military Families Project, and the Arrears Payment Incentive Program (APIP).
The Texas APIP program is an extension of research that began in Wisconsin under the direction of Professor Carolyn Heinrich, CHASP director, who (with colleagues) investigated the causal linkages between growing child support debt and noncustodial parents’ participation in the labor market and the effectiveness of policy interventions designed to reduce child support debt and mitigate its consequences. Research on this topic is essential because debt may be both a consequence of nonpayment of child support as well as a cause of nonpayment. If debt discourages cooperation with CSE efforts, or undercuts incentives to work in the formal labor market, increased enforcement may be counterproductive in reducing child support debt.
Heinrich and colleagues found substantial negative effects of child support debt on noncustodial parents’ child support payments and formal earnings. In addition, working parents appear to reduce work effort (and child support payments) more than parents with weaker connections to the labor market, suggesting a serious unintended consequence of policies designed to help support poor families.
In a collaborative effort between the State of Wisconsin Bureau of Child Support and the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, Heinrich worked with policymakers and child support agency staff to design and evaluate a pilot program that would draw noncustodial parents with large debts back into the CSE system by offering them new incentives to pay child support. The results of the evaluation showed that noncustodial parents paid significantly more child support (more than a hundred dollars more per month) than nonparticipants, were more likely to pay in a given month, and had significantly larger reductions in debt balances owed to custodial parents and the state.
The Texas Office of Attorney General has now developed its own version of this arrears payment incentive program and is currently piloting the program in Texas. Learn more about the Texas APIP pilot and read the draft evaluation findings on the CFRP website.
- 2013 JPAM Article: “Discouraging Disadvantaged Fathers’™ Employment: An Unintended Consequence of Policies Designed to Support Families” (PDF)
- 2011 JPAM Article: “Reducing Child Support Debt and Its Consequences: Can Forgiveness Benefit All?” (PDF)
- 2011 Presentation Slides: “The Role of Debt in Discouraging Employment and Payment of Child Support and a Pilot Program to Address the Problem” (PDF)
September 1, 2014