Responsible Fatherhood and Welfare: How States Can Use the New Law to Help Children

Bernard, Stanley

Fathers play two integral and related roles in promoting their children’s well-being: (1) they provide their children economic support to ensure that basic needs are met and (2) they provide a safe and nurturing environment while working with other caregivers and institutions to help their children grow to healthy adulthood. However, over the past two decades, the number of children growing up without a father has increased by 56 percent. Although most children still grow up in two-parent families, over 16 million children live in homes affected by father absence, generally because they are born to unwed parents or are affected by divorce.3 Research on promoting responsible fatherhood suggests that when fathers provide for their children economically and are regularly and positively connected to them, whether or not the father lives in the home, children do better emotionally and have fewer behavioral problems.4 Thus, encouraging responsible fatherhood is central to an agenda for children in the context of welfare reform. Such an agenda is based on the fact that welfare reform can affect children in any of three central ways: (1) by affecting family income, (2) by affecting parenting styles and levels of parental stress, and (3) by affecting the quality of services that children receive. Welfare reform efforts that consider fathers’ value to the family as it relates to each of these issues can help states build an agenda for children that acknowledges the broad range of children’s needs. This issue brief discusses those provisions in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act of 1996—P.L. 104-193 (PRA), and those in the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 (BBA) that are related to fatherhood.* It gives some suggestions to states on how to promote responsible fatherhood given the federal laws, presents some of the previous welfare laws related to fatherhood, and provides a brief overview of PRA provisions that affect fathers.


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National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University

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Academic Units
National Center for Children in Poverty
Children and Welfare Reform, 4
Published Here
February 22, 2019