Families Forward Demonstration


More than one-third of all children under 18 — about 24 million children — live in single-parent families, the vast majority headed by single mothers. Although there have been improvements (such as automatic deductions from paychecks) in collecting and distributing child support from noncustodial parents (those who do not have physical custody of their children), more than half of the parents who were owed child support in 2013 received no payments or partial payments.

Noncustodial parents — most of whom are fathers — often struggle to meet their child support obligations if they have low incomes and poor job prospects. Many accumulate child support debts while their children lack the financial support they need. Many of these parents’ financial struggles are attributable, at least in part, to broad shifts in the U.S. economy that have dramatically reduced the availability of well-paying jobs for workers without college educations or other postsecondary training.

In partnership with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, and child support agencies in multiple states, the Families Forward Demonstration examines new strategies to improve the earnings and financial capabilities of noncustodial parents who owe child support but are unable to fully meet their obligations due to low earnings. The objective is to identify employment approaches that can be integrated into child support programs across the country to improve financial outcomes for noncustodial parents and increase their ability to support their children.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The Families Forward Demonstration (FFD) seeks to inform policymakers and child support administrators about ways to improve the economic well-being of low-income noncustodial parents, custodial parents, and their children.

Many child support agencies across the county offer services such as job search assistance and job readiness training to help noncustodial parents get jobs. And most research on employment programs for noncustodial parents — including the Parents’ Fair Share Demonstration in the 1990s that was led by MDRC — has focused on placing them into jobs. Building on more recent research on employment programs for noncustodial parents, as well as recent evidence on workforce-development approaches that concentrate on certain industries or sectors of the economy, FFD is examining strategies that place a greater emphasis on skill-building activities that can help parents qualify for higher-paying jobs. The program model provides:

  • Occupational skills training and employment services to help parents build skills and competencies for higher-paying jobs in their local labor markets

  • Support services to remove barriers to participation in the skills training and employment services, including case management and child support practices that are responsive to participants’ needs while in training

Child support agencies in FFD are partnering with workforce development agencies and other service providers to connect noncustodial parents to program services.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The Families Forward Demonstration (FFD) takes place in two stages:

Design: MDRC worked with participating child support agencies to develop the program and to identify partner providers for service delivery. The core of FFD is occupational training that builds the skills of low-income parents to help them qualify for higher-wage jobs in high demand in their area. To design the programs and the evaluation, MDRC worked with child support agencies to develop knowledge about their local labor markets, the training providers in their areas, and their target populations. State and local child support agencies in Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Washington are participating in FFD.

Evaluation: MDRC will conduct an observational study of implementation and outcomes. The implementation study will describe how the programs operated, the factors that may have influenced the implementation of services, and the experiences of participants in the program. The outcomes analysis will use a research design that will compare participants’ employment, earnings, and child support payments before and after enrolling in the study. FFD aims to enroll approximately 900 noncustodial parents across all participating agencies.

MDRC will track study participants for up to 12 months after enrollment to assess their employment, earnings, and child support payments as reported in administrative data. MDRC will also conduct site visits and interview staff members and noncustodial parent study participants to shed light on program implementation.