For the roughly 3.3 million low-income fathers in America who are without custody of their children, love for their offspring can be overshadowed by the guilt and anger of not being able to provide them with adequate financial support. Limited education and work experience may make finding a legitimate, living-wage job difficult, and chronic unemployment or participation in underground or illegal activities may become a way of life. A prior criminal record, substance abuse or a strained relationship with the child's mother can further contribute to the economic and emotional distress of both father and child, frequently resulting in decreased parental contact. Stigmatized as uncaring and irresponsible, these "dead-broke dads"--defined as those whose income is below the poverty level for a single adult--find themselves ranked by some among the "undeserving" poor, pushed to the background of social consciousness and care. The frustrations and hopes of such men lay at the heart of the Mott Foundation's 2001 launch of the 3.5-year, $10.2-million Fathers at Work Initiative (FWI). This demonstration, designed to improve the labor market participation and earnings of young, low-income, noncustodial fathers also seeks to illustrate that these men need public policies and systems -- child-support enforcement, social welfare and criminal justice -- that promote, rather than impede, responsible parenting.
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