Lily Nwanesi

Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Senior Honors Thesis

Department or School

Political Science

First Advisor

Barbara Patrick

Second Advisor

Barry Pyle

Third Advisor

Jeffrey L. Bernstein


Fathers hold key roles in the lives of their children. Children who grow up with fathers in the home tend to remain in school, participate less in delinquent behavior, and have good emotional development. However, federal policies, such as the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Act (1935) and child support legislation before 1996, have indirectly (and perhaps unintentionally) led to a decrease of fathers in the home. Recently, the federal government created the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (1996) to reform these programs. From this policy, programs such as the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program and strengthened child support provisions were created to reverse the indirect effects caused by the aforementioned policies and promote two-parent family structures. Also, multiple states have adopted policies to help promote responsible fatherhood and two-parent families. In this paper, I study the key provisions and positive/negative outcomes of these policies and programs to show how they affected fatherhood either negatively or positively in America. I argue that the former policies (AFDC and child support pre-1996) indirectly affected the increase in absent father families on welfare. I show that TANF and post-1996 child support legislation does not do much to reverse the indirect effects or promote two-parent structured families. Finally, I analyze three state programs from Texas, Connecticut, and Illinois and show, overall, that state programs promote responsible fatherhood and two-parent family structures better than the analyzed federal programs.