Read The Report here!
RAP released a new report focusing on the challenges faced (and posed) by the tens of thousands of young fathers in New York City as well as their potential to move their children out of poverty.
“Who Cares About New York’s Teen Dads? How Family Court Reform Can Help Break a Cycle of Poverty” paints a portrait of a group about which little is known. Using national data, city statistics, its own research and anecdotal evidence, RAP finds the city’s population of young (under the age of 24) and teen/adolescent fathers (under 20) woefully undereducated and faced with bleak employment prospects, yet expected to adeptly navigate legal proceedings and provide child support.
“These are severely undereducated and under-skilled young men,” says Brooke Richie, executive director of RAP, yet we expect them to negotiate Family Court and meet the same support obligations as adult fathers. “Our neglect of these young fathers imperils their children’s futures as well as their own.”
Young fathers give important informal support to children.
Though they typically neither live with, nor are married to, the teen mothers of their children, these fathers are generally involved with their offspring, the report finds, providing informal and emotional support, and eventually, financial support. This less formal support is critically important to their children, who reap significant developmental benefits from their involvement with both parents.
There are more than 30,000 children of teen parents in New York City; most of them live in poverty. While the report demonstrates the value of a father’s non-financial support, Who Cares About New York’s Teen Dads? also uses Urban Institute and national child support data to show the vital economic value of the fathers’ financial child support in lifting their children out of poverty. According to RAP, the Urban Institute found that “for poor custodial parents who received child support, such monies represented 40% of their income.”
Institutional disregard for fathers’ role in support of children.
After making the case for the fathers’ potential to break the cycle of poverty for their children, RAP looks at how Family Court, the system that oversees child support, interacts with the young and teen fathers, and finds that on a structural level, it does not “facilitate teen fathers’ ability to provide economic and emotional support to their children.”
The problems are rampant: Family Court documents, such as petitions and summonses, are incomprehensible, full of legal language, leading to missed court appointments, default judgments, untenable support orders, and even jail. These young fathers often have to represent themselves in their proceedings, even though they are designed for knowledgeable adults. RAP’s research reveals that the teen fathers report feelings ranging from “abandonment and fear, to helplessness and rage” as a result of their treatment by Family Court. Together the policies and practices of the Court are deterrents rather than facilitators.
“Child support is a critical anti-poverty tool,” says Richie, but we need to do a better job of meeting these dads where they are educationally and developmentally if we want them to actually be able to provide financial support.”
Recommendations to avoid ‘squandering’ fathers’ potential.
“As a society, we squander [their] potential by not investing in workforce development and family court policies, especially those concerning child support, that would undergird these fathers’ long-term economic success,” RAP states. “Ultimately, if teen fathers fail, so, in the vast majority of cases, will their children.”
The Teen Dads report makes recommendations that could help remedy New York’s Family Court problems, starting with the need to make child support documents comprehensible to a layperson with a sixth-grade reading level. RAP also calls for the establishment of Model Child Support Rules and Proceedings as well as a web-based system that would guide self-represented parents through Family Court.
Conclusion: Pay attention or see teen parenthood/poverty cycles repeated.
While the report aims to start a “citywide conversation about the urgent need to pay greater attention to the experiences, needs and challenges of New York City’s tens of thousands of adolescent and young fathers,” it concludes: . . . “Without strategic anti-poverty interventions that engage young fathers, [their] children are more likely to repeat the cycles of teen parenthood and poverty in their own lives.”