What Successful Antipoverty Efforts Look Like: A Refreshing Report From the Rocky Mountain State

antipoverty dad fatherA program in Colorado that focuses on helping non-custodial fathers gain employment and pay child support provides a refreshing example of effective state-led antipoverty efforts.

Initial results from the Colorado Parent Employment Program (CO-PEP) demonstrate the power of work and careful case management, with a focus on outcomes, in increasing the economic and social involvement of formerly addicted or incarcerated men in their families’ lives. Funded through a public/private partnership and administered by the new Colorado Division of Child Support Services, CO-PEP resembles similar projects in Texas that focus on transformational rather than transactional assistance. In other words, assistance isn’t just financial aid but an investment of both social capital and money coupled with some tough love.

CO-PEP is showing that this model still works, with its particular focus on increasing earnings for non-custodial fathers and thereby increasing child support payments to single-parent families. The Aspen Institute reports that two-thirds of program participants had gained full-time employment within 6 months, and within the first year of participation three-fourths of these parents were able to increase their child support payments, leaving single-parent families less dependent on government safety net programs. At a cost of about $2,500 per enrollee and with the possibility that single-parent families will see their need for public assistance decline, CO-PEP is a fiscally responsible investment.

A bonus: Demonstrating the power of child support payments more broadly, the increased payments were associated with non-custodial parents’ increased engagement with their children. In the words of the Aspen report: “As [non-custodial parents] felt more confident as parents, they also reengaged with their children, and this behavior was reinforced with positive messaging from staff members and, more importantly, from family members.”

How did CO-PEP achieve this kind of success? They first had to understand that most absent parents (mostly fathers) want to work, earn money, and support their children and former partners. CO-PEP set up these absent parents with coaches and case managers, who trained them for up to 14 hours a month in work preparation, parenting skills, and financial literacy. Then they got them into employment — and the positive outcomes followed from there.

The transformational assistance in this case is the combination of intensive case management — an investment that gives program participants a feeling of support, encouragement, and purpose — with an insistence that participants work and earn income, and pay their child support. While many are hesitant to encourage the second half of that approach, it’s important to remember that people want to work, and non-work leaves non-custodial parents feeling “ashamed,” in Aspen’s words. There are no handouts in CO-PEP. There are local governments and their case managers lending a helping hand, but insisting that you help yourself at the same time.

This should be the model for rehabilitating those on the margins of our communities. Government programs can successfully invest in people’s skills and abilities while insisting on the primacy of work and responsibility toward one’s family. We can help people who are struggling the most get back on their feet by engaging with them, not just cutting a check.

From - AEI.org - by Robert Doar

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