April 29, 2011
Cammett: "Deadbeats, Deadbrokes, and Prisoners"
Historically, child support policy has targeted absent parents with aggressive enforcement measures. Such an approach is based on an economic resource model that is increasingly irrelevant, even counterproductive, for many low-income families. Specifically, modern day mass incarceration has radically skewed the paradigm on which the child support system is based, removing millions of parents from the formal economy entirely, diminishing their income opportunities after release, and rendering them ineffective economic actors. Such a flawed policy approach creates unintended consequences for the children of these parents by compromising a core non-monetary goal of child support system – parent-child engagement – as enforcement measures serve to alienate parents from the formal economy after reentry and drive them underground and away from their families.
In this article I propose that lawmakers harmonize child well-being rhetoric with policy by mitigating the counterproductive effects of federal and state law on incarcerated parents, an issue that is undoubtedly of national concern. I also invite readers to reimagine the normative contours of child supportive practices by recognizing that child support alone will never be an effective substitute for broader antipoverty measures.
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