The Implementation of the Partners for Fragile Families Demonstration Project  

The Partners for Fragile Families (PFF) demonstration program intends to effect systems change and deliver suitable and effective services to improve outcomes for parents and children in low-income families by focusing on young, new, and noncustodial fathers. Head Start Community members will learn how PFF worked to reduce welfare dependence and change the way agencies and community organizations supported unmarried families. They will also learn how the increase in economic capacity of disadvantaged fathers and mothers allows them to become financial, emotional, and developmental resources to their children.


The following is an excerpt fromThe Implementation of the Partners for Fragile Families Demonstration Project.

See PDF version:  The Implementation of the Partners for Fragile Families Demonstration Project» [PDF, 608KB]

In recent years, policymakers and programs have paid increased attention to the role of noncustodial fathers in the lives of low-income families. With welfare reform placing time limits on cash benefits, there has been a strong interest in increasing financial support from noncustodial parents as a way to reduce poverty among low-income children. Although child support enforcement efforts have been increasing dramatically in recent years, there is some evidence that many low-income fathers cannot afford to support their children financially without impoverishing themselves or their families. To address these complex issues, a number of initiatives have focused on developing services and options to help low-income fathers become more financially and emotionally involved with their families and to help young, low-income families become stable.

Sponsored by the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Ford Foundation, the Partners for Fragile Families (PFF) demonstration program intended to effect systems change, deliver appropriate and effective services, and improve outcomes for both parents and children in low-income families. By making lasting changes in the way public agencies and community organizations work with unmarried families, the initiative aimed to increase the capacity of young, economically disadvantaged fathers and mothers to become financial, emotional, and nurturing resources to their children and to reduce poverty and welfare dependence. The PFF demonstration, which built upon lessons from programs and demonstrations that operated over the past two decades, was implemented over a three-year period beginning in 2000 at 13 project sites in nine states.

The PFF projects sought to help government agencies (especially CSE agencies) and community- and faith-based organizations provide more flexible and responsive programs at the state and local levels to better support the needs of children living in fragile families. The key elements of the PFF projects included

  • promoting the voluntary establishment of paternity;
  • connecting young fathers with the child support system and encouraging payment of child support;
  • improving parenting and relationship skills of young fathers;
  • helping young fathers secure and retain employment (so that they can pay child support and otherwise financially support their children); and
  • providing other types of services to strengthen family ties, commitments, and father involvement when parents do not live together.

Unlike other program initiatives for noncustodial fathers, PFF targeted young fathers (16 to 25 years old) who had not yet established paternity and did not yet have extensive involvement with the CSE system. The underlying theory was that by targeting new fathers at a point when they had little or no previous involvement with this system and when they still might have a positive relationship with the mother of their children and the children themselves, the projects could better assist these young parents to become strong financial and emotional resources for their children.

The Implementation of the Partners for Fragile Families Demonstration Project. Martinson, K., et al. DHHS/ASPE/HSP. 2007. English. [PDF, 608KB].

Last Reviewed: June 2009

Last Updated: June 23, 2015