This article examines the result of a long-term disregard of the needs of fathers by public policy and social programs. Historically, federal and state laws and welfare regulations have created barriers and disincentives for the involvement of fathers in the lives of their children. Federal assistance for the poor often focused on children and custodial parents, elderly persons, and disabled persons. Able-bodied men, including noncustodial fathers, were not eligible for benefits such as public or subsidized housing, Medicare, or food stamps. These policies lead to situations in which fathers were too poor to support their children financially and subsequently too ashamed to maintain contact or involvement with them. Recently, the federal government recognized the importance of father-child relationships and began to amend regulations to strengthen families. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRA) lifted restrictions for welfare eligibility and permitted states to determine who could receive assistance. The PRA and the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 also provided for education, training, and work opportunities for noncustodial fathers of TANF-eligible children and increased the amount of child support collected by the state that could be passed on to the families. Additional changes to federal and state laws should continue to promote a less hostile approach to child support and visitation.
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