Scholars, service providers, and city government officials filed into CUNY Graduate Center yesterday to take part in a discussion on the wellbeing of children and families in New York City, co-sponsored by the Future of Children, the New York City Office of Child Support Enforcement, and CUNY.
“The heart of the community is the family. We at the Office of Child Support Enforcement [OCSE] are about work and we are about families,” said Federal Commissioner for the Office of Child Support Enforcement Vicki Turetsky in her opening remarks. Child support is not only an important anti-poverty strategy for children but has also been positively associated with other important child outcomes, like academic achievement.
Executive Deputy Commissioner of NYC’s Human Resources Administration Frances Pardus-Abbadessa explained that automated child support collection is working effectively for the majority of parents. However, traditional enforcement tools have been less effective for the approximately 25 percent of parents who owe child support, but have limited ability to pay. Approximately 70 percent of unpaid child support debt is owed by parents earning no or low-reported income.
Columbia University’s Irwin Garfinkel and Rutgers University’s Lenna Nepomnyaschy, working with data from Princeton’s Fragile Families study, showed that the vast majority of parents want to be engaged and financially supportive in their child’s life at his or her birth. But that involvement declines over time, which is when child support plays an increasingly important role.
How can systems better connect with the families and parents that are the most difficult to reach?
The group divided into three breakout sessions: one focused on family wellbeing, another focused on incarceration, and a third focused on employment.
The groups returned with a few suggestions:
–Find ways to connect parents to employment. Incentivize the placement of formerly incarcerated parents for employers and workforce development agencies and continue policies and programs that cap child support debt for incarcerated parents.
–Increase efforts to involve fathers in their children’s lives from birth, and build OCSE mediation programs to encourage better coparenting relationships. As keynote speaker Princeton’s Hillard Pouncy suggested, engaged fathers will be more likely to contribute financially.
–Continue finding ways to improve the image of the child support system through collaborations with workforce agencies, fatherhood programs, domestic violence coalitions, mediation and parenting services, and social service organizations.
Additional and more specific recommendations were offered and discussed by a panel including Larry Mead of New York University, Commissioner of the NYC Human Resources Administration Robert Doar, Vicki Turetsky, and the Center for Court Innovation’s Liberty Aldrich. Breakout session speakers included Maureen Waller of Columbia University, James McHale of the University of South Florida, Petersburg, Mark Kleiman of Community Mediation Services, George T. McDonald of the Doe Fund, Kathleen Coughlin from NYC’s Department of Probation, Amanda Geller of Columbia University, Virginia Cruickshank of F.E.G.S., Elaine Sorenson from The Urban Institute and James Riccio of MDRC.
For more information on this topic, visit the Future of Children’s Fragile Families volume, specifically the chapter by Robert Lerman on Capabilities and Contributions of Unwed Fathers.