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«Evidence of the Effectiveness of Child Support and Visitation: Examining Food Insecurity among Children with Nonresident Fathers Steven Garasky Æ ...»

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All analyses were weighted using NSAF sample weights. Reference categories in italics *p 0.10 **p 0.05 ***p 0.01 for the severity measures. Furthermore, while any amount of visiting is typically found to be negatively related to aspects of food insecurity, the relationship is statistically significant only for visiting more than once a week, the most frequent level of visitation measured.

Child support receipt does not have the same consistently significantly negative impact on our indicators of food insecurity that is found with father visitation. With respect to each individual indicator of food insecurity, child support receipt is found to be effective in reducing only the likelihood that the adults in the resident family’s household ever had to cut the size of their meals or had to skip meals. Only this relationship is statistically significant. The negative relationships between child support receipt and whether the receiving family reports worrying if food will run out, and child support receipt and ever having food not last are not statistically significant. Child support receipt significantly (p 0.10) reduces the likelihood of experiencing all three types of food insecurity. We hypothesize that the small amounts of child support received by families who receive it are not sufficient or consistent enough to impact their ability to access an adequate amount of food on a regular basis. Even with additional child support income, these low-income families continue to worry about having enough food and continue to experience times when there is not enough food for everyone to eat.

Discussion

This paper examined how nonresidential father involvement affects the ability of the resident child’s family to have access to enough food for active, healthy living. Our findings suggest that paying child support is only one way that nonresident fathers can positively affect the well being of their children. Our results indicate that, among low-income families, children whose fathers are frequent visitors are less likely to experience the aspects of food insecurity examined here. While child support payments likely have an impact, we have less evidence that receiving child support ameliorates food acquisition problems among low-income children.

J Fam Econ Iss (2007) 28:105–121 119 We identified several ways in which involvement by nonresident fathers may affect food insecurity. Our results indicate that low-income families need more than their household income and child support dollars to meet their food needs. It appears that the small amount of child support received by the relatively few families that receive it may only moderate the severity of their food insecurity. Our results do not suggest that fathers who visit frequently increase food insecurity by behaving as the family breadwinner and discouraging receipt of assistance from outside sources.

Regarding father involvement, more likely scenarios might be that fathers who visit regularly provide in-kind support to their children in the form of clothes and gifts (which may free up more of the mother’s income for food), as well as food and/or dinners out. Fathers who visit also may monitor mothers’ spending habits with respect to their children.

Our results contribute to a growing literature suggesting that paying child support is just one aspect of fathering, and that visiting as well as paying child support can improve the health and well being of children. For example, a recent study by Menning (2004) indicates that visitation with nonresident fathers is associated with less cigarette smoking by adolescents. Perhaps child support payments alone are an inadequate indicator of low-income nonresident fathers’ contributions to their children’s lives. In results not shown, we found weak evidence that children with high-visiting nonresident fathers (more than once a week) are less likely to receive child support than children whose fathers visit a moderate amount (monthly). This suggests that low-income nonresident fathers might be substituting visits for child support payments.

In summary, it is obvious that there is a great deal more to understand about the potential benefits of nonresident father involvement. As child support enforcement becomes more rigorous (Bartfeld, 2003; Bartfeld & Meyer, 2003; Garasky, 2000), it is important and timely to investigate how parental involvement that is encouraged by current social and welfare policy affects resident family assistance program participation and other outcomes such as their ability to meet their food needs. Furthermore, it is clear that understanding the effects of child support and visitation on these outcomes requires better data. We support those advocating that surveys expand their data gathering efforts in these areas (Argys et al., 2006; Garasky et al., 2006).

The goals of the federal child support enforcement program include fostering responsible behavior toward children. In light of this goal, our findings suggest that policymakers should continue to recognize and encourage nonresident parents’ nonmonetary contributions to their children’s lives. Policies and programs that capitalize on the ability of nonresident parents to provide informal resources to their children may find that this is another effective way to enhance child well being, especially for low-income single mother families whose nonresident fathers often have low incomes as well.





References

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