Ethnographic Research

IRP Reports

Kisun Nam, Maria Cancian, and Daniel R. Meyer, 2006

The results of the first phase of the CSDE evaluation suggested that most participants had very little understanding of how any child support paid to them would be treated. In this report we explore whether knowledge of the child support pass-through and disregard policy has changed since the initial implementation of the policy. We use the additional questions in the follow-up Survey of Wisconsin Works Families (SWWF) to explore whether knowledge about child support pass-through and disregard policy has increased among the initial W-2 families, and, if so, for which types of families. Our results suggest that many parents do not fully understand policy. We find evidence that child support agency staff provided useful information, and that those mothers who reported having heard media information were also better informed. This suggests that there are ways to directly improve policy knowledge. On the other hand, we also find that people learn from experience. This experiential learning takes time, and when policy changes, it again takes time for participants to adjust their understanding.

Thomas Kaplan and Victoria Mayer, 2006

IRP researchers are interested in knowledge of the pass-through among families who entered W-2 later in the program, after the Child Support Pass-Through and Disregard experiment (CSDE) had ended and all W-2 participants received all current child support paid on their behalf. Because these participants were not part of the CSDE survey, this report relies on an alternative approach to assessing their knowledge, through two rounds of interviews with W-2 and child support agency staff who had contact with them. The interviews were conducted in 2002 and 2005.

The interviews suggest that the policy of passing-through all current child support matches the philosophy of personal responsibility emphasized by the state's TANF program. Respondents in Milwaukee County, which has the largest concentration of families affected by the pass-through, believed that the adoption of the pass-through has increased custodial parents' cooperation in the establishment of child support. Staff in several counties also noted that the pass-through policy facilitates the efforts of W-2 case managers to build constructive relationships with program applicants. If this is correct, the benefits of the pass-through policy extend beyond the immediate financial gain experienced by families who receive it, helping to improve the cooperation of program participants with both W-2 and child support agency staff.

David Pate, 2006

This report evaluates the extent of knowledge of custodial and noncustodial parents by race, gender, and geographic location about Wisconsin's pass-through and disregard of child support payments. Sixteen focus groups were conducted in seven counties, four urban and three rural, of custodial parents and noncustodial parents who received public benefits in Wisconsin. The intent of the research was to explore similarities and differences in perspectives and experiences across sites, and between mothers and fathers.

David Pate, 2006

This report builds on earlier work, and relied on face-to-face interviews with randomly selected fathers of children receiving W-2 benefits, followed, where possible, by an interview with the mother of one of the father's children. This work again explores the level of knowledge about child support pass-through/disregard policy among parents receiving public assistance in Dane County. It is unique in that it explores the experiences, knowledge, and attitudes of couples–rather than focusing on results by gender–associated with W-2 and also allows for comparisons across and within races.

Jane Collins and Victoria Mayer, 2006

Wisconsin’s policy providing a full child support pass-through and disregard of child support payments in calculating eligibility offers a new source of income for W-2 families. It also requires that both custodial and noncustodial parents comply with new rules. This report investigates the effects of both changes, as well as how participants perceive the trade-offs. The researchers reviewed child support policy documents, and in three counties conducted short interviews with local child support administrators and longer ethnographic interviews with a stratified sample of 42 women. The interviews covered family transitions, work history, and changing sources of formal and informal income in an effort to determine how child support income and child support enforcement policies affect economic well-being and family structure.

Katherine A. Magnuson, 2006

This report considers the factors that influence how a father supports his noncustodial children, with attention both to fathers’ economic resources and to multiple-partner fertility. Data come from the Time, Love, Cash, Caring, and Children (TLC3) project, a longitudinal, qualitative study of 75 romantically involved couples who also participated in the Fragile Families survey. In 2002, at the time of the first survey, all couples had just had a child, and yearly data collection continued until the child was approximately 3 or 4 years old. The author considers the amount of money and goods that fathers provided for their noncustodial children from two perspectives.

Judi Bartfeld, 2005

The notion that arrears have a deterrent effect on child support payments has been raised repeatedly in the qualitative literature, but there have only been limited efforts to examine this quantitatively. This report examines the relationship between child support arrearages owed to the state and subsequent compliance with ongoing support obligations. The author uses a framework that recognizes that the determinants of compliance differ for employed and nonemployed fathers and attempts to disentangle the effects of overall arrearages from the effects of having an obligation to pay birth-related costs (known as lying-in costs).

David J. Pate Jr., 2002

The research presented in this report is part of an evaluation of the child support component of Wisconsin’s welfare reform, conducted by the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP). The report presents findings of an ethnographic study of African American fathers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, whose children were receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. The aim is to add to the limited research concerning the involvement of these fathers with their children and their children’s mothers and to inform policymakers about the extent of the fathers’ knowledge of the current changes in welfare and child support policy. This report presents a picture of 36 African American fathers as they manage their day-to-day existence in the context of the new welfare policy.

IRP Discussion Papers

Maria Cancian, Daniel R. Meyer, and Kisun Nam, 2005

There is surprisingly limited information on how much individuals know about the policy rules that could affect them, either in general or in evaluations of new programs. In this article we examine the level of knowledge that participants in a Wisconsin child support and welfare demonstration had about child support policy rules. We find very low levels of knowledge. Our results suggest that people tend to learn policy rules by experience; we find less consistent support for knowledge being primarily imparted through interactions with caseworkers. Implications of the lack of participants' knowledge for policy evaluations are discussed.