When ‘Deadbeat Dads’ Are Jailed, No One Wins

By Melissa Young, Director, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Illustration via The New York Times

Illustration via The New York Times

On April 20, The New York Times published a powerful piece arguing that the use of jail to pressure parents to pay child support traps low-income, noncustodial parents in “in a cycle of debt, unemployment and imprisonment.” We agree—and that’s why we’re thrilled that today, The Times printed our Letter to the Editor lifting up employment, not incarceration, as a way to help low-income parents support their families and meet their own needs. We hope you’ll read—and share!—our piece.

To the Editor:

Incarcerating noncustodial parents for failure to pay child support is not an effective enforcement strategy for parents earning little or no income. A better strategy is connecting these parents to employment.

Work-oriented programs for noncustodial parents with child support debt couple job training with innovative strategies that help parents break the cycle of unemployment, debt and imprisonment. These strategies include helping parents reinstate driver’s licenses so they can get to work, modifying child support orders to reflect actual ability to pay, and brokering debt compromises that reduce state-owed child support debt.

For millions of noncustodial parents, it’s employment — not incarceration — that will help them support their families while meeting their own needs.



The writer is director of National Initiatives on Poverty and Economic Opportunity for Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights.

We believe that America is stronger when everyone who wants to work can succeed in employment, and we’re committed to developing and expanding sustainable policy solutions that benefit children and increase employment and economic opportunities for low-income noncustodial parents. We encourage you to share our letter, sign up for our e-news, and explore our other resources on child support, incarceration, and employment. Together, we can get America back to work.

Want more? Take a look at: 
Our blog:
Innovations in Child Support Policy: 3 Ways to Increase Employment + Economic Opportunity for Noncustodial Parents
Our slides: Overview of the Child Support System and Innovations in Child Support Policy and Practice
Our research paper: Healthy Relationships, Employment, and Reentry

The illustration at the top of this post is credited to Abigail Gray Swartz. The original illustration can be found here.


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About National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity is dedicated to ending chronic unemployment and poverty. We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to succeed in work and support themselves and their families. Through our field building, we provide support and guidance that fosters more effective and sustainable employment efforts. Our policy and advocacy work advances solutions to the systemic issues that drive chronic unemployment.

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