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TANF and Non-custodial Fathers

The results from NETWORK’s 2010 survey project emphasized the prevalence of families headed by single parents, mainly women, who experience economic hardship. These findings from our sample correlate with the greater U.S. population, as it is estimated that over 24 million children live in households without their biological fathers (U.S. Census Bureau). This translates to one in three children in America. Furthermore, 20 million children, or 24%, live in single-parent homes. In 2007, 40% of all U.S. births were to single women, and for women aged 20 to 24, this figure was 60%.

How does this relate to poverty?

Children raised in living situations without their fathers are five times as likely to live below the poverty level. Whereas only 7.8% of children in married couples lived in poverty in 2007, 38.4% of children in female-headed households lived in poverty. Specifically during the recession, unemployment or volatile job conditions—which cause psychological stress and economic hardship—may have had adverse affects on a father’s involvement with his children, especially if the father is non-custodial. Additionally, studies have shown that members of minority groups with limited education and job opportunities make up a great proportion of non-custodial fathers. Almost 2 in 3 African American children and 4 in 10 Latino children live in father-absent homes, as opposed to 1 in 4 white children.

As noted by the National Fatherhood Initiative, children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers.

On the other hand, children who live in father-absent homes are two times more likely to experience health and behavioral problems and engage in criminal behavior.

Because of these critical trends, a number of the stated goals of TANF are to strengthen stable two-parent families and promote employment and marriage, and a portion of many states’ TANF funds are used for various fatherhood initiatives. For analyses of fatherhood initiatives employed in the 1990s and early 2000s, see the Urban Institute’s study, Ten Key Findings from Responsible Fatherhood Initiatives and the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse.