Joining the CPA Incubator

  • Why are you here? What was most formative for you that’s part of why you are here?
  • What’s a time in your life you’ll always remember when you confronted a challenge, and learned something important about yourself?
  • How do these experiences intersect with your decision to join the CPA Incubator?

I grew up poor. My father was always suspicious of people with money. My mother often lamented that we did not have enough of it. Because my father was a service worker in the lumber industry for most of my childhood, he did not have the benefit of collective bargaining (nor the sense of pride that one can find in a strong union), so he was subjected to the boom and bust economy. Early on his working life, my father actually made more at the lumber yard than as a teacher, so he left teaching for the lumber business at a young age, not understanding what was to come: the Walmart effect (also know as HomeDepot). Leading up to this transition, whenever the economy would sputter, he would lose his job, only to be rehired after months of temporary work (and lots of decades of the rosary at night).

My mother was a school teacher (and later a school librarian) who went back to work full-time when I was in middle school. She had dreamed of staying home full-time to raise her four children but quickly learned that they could not live on one income. But it would be nearly a decade before she and my father both had stable incomes. Once I was out of the house and in college, after a stint at the serf-wages local Catholic school teaching English, my father joined my mother at the local middle school as an English teacher. (They live in New Hampshire, where the average teacher earns $56,000 (the 14th lowest pay by state in the U.S.) and only 31% of teachers qualify for pensions (the 10th lowest ranking by state in the U.S.).)

As the oldest child, when it was time for me to attend college, I was academically competitive but clueless. Although my parents needed to claim me on their taxes, they were not able to contribute anything to the cost of attending school. I was expected to take out loans and otherwise pay for college and all related expenses myself. I did so and ended up at a prestigious Jesuit, Catholic university that preached the gospel of social justice. I went on trips to do service in Appalachia and participated in protests for a variety of social causes. I studied intersecting systems of oppression in my women’s and gender studies classes – sexism, racism, classism, and so on – but it has taken me two decades to critically reflect on my education and to see the gap between what was assumed (because I was White with an Irish name, I must be a part of the “lace curtain Irish” middle or upper middle class) and the reality (I was a White kid from a poor family with no way to close the gap of cognitive dissonance between my personal economic circumstances and the expectations of how to engage with the class stratifications (ignore it) that quietly framed every interaction on the picturesque campus where I was a student.).

After college, I did the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC). There, we each were expected to take a vow of poverty, simplicity, and community. It took months for me to realize that most of my fellow JV’s were getting by on their parents’ credit cards, so they could still wear brand new clothes and go on vacations during our year of service. Still, I did not learn. I went on from there to Harvard Divinity School with $300 to my name, waiting on loans to arrive so that I could pay my rent and buy a computer. There, I had classmates who went skiing in Switzerland on long weekends, others had John Kerry’s personal cell phone number, and one drove a brand new Mercedes. In the face of this unabashed wealth, I doubled down on my commitment to justice work, accompanying at-risk youth, organizing faith-based anti-war efforts and a statewide anti-poverty initiative in California, helping low-income moms get dental care for their kids in New Hampshire.

Eventually, I went back to work in higher ed, as an administrator. I soon found that while I routinely worked upwards of 60 hours a week and did things like accompany students to the hospital for rape kits, my student affairs colleagues (who took long lunches and did things like decide on the color of the balloon arch for homecoming) made, on average, $25,000 a year more than I did. Why? Because I directed the University women’s center and (gasp!) did “unpleasant” tasks like going to the hospital in the middle of the night to attend to students who were raped in our residence halls.

I have always been a good advocate for others. For example, when I learned about the scope of the problem of sexual violence, I worked tooth and nail until the university, under the threat of pending lawsuits and bad publicity, agreed to fund a sexual violence prevention education program. But when it comes to advocating for myself, I am uncomfortable. Asking for better pay was excruciating. Even as I was outraged by the pay gap, I felt embarrassed that I had not realized this problem at the outset. I had believed what the HR staff person told me, that a higher salary simply wasn’t possible. It was. I got part of the way there through my own advocacy and help from a supportive supervisor.

As I have moved on from that job to another graduate degree and back in to the workforce as an academic (professor), I am again seeing familiar issues of wage stagnation, under pay, lack of retirement and other benefits. Being at a Catholic university, founded by women religious, the expectation is that faculty will serve at wages that require one to have a spouse or a second job (even though the university also requires outside employment to be approved by the Provost) to make ends meet in an urban setting with staggering housing costs. My colleagues, especially social work faculty, are often reticent to discuss possible solutions to the low wages and poor benefits. It seems we have all internalized that as social workers, and many of us as women, somehow believe we deserve less. Less economic security, less recognition, less economic preparation for aging, even as we tout the importance of “self-care” to our students.

And it never occurred to me, until I got to see Felipe’s journey unfold, that it is actually possible to do well and to improve the economic circumstances of other people at the same time. I remember admiring the thoughtful coaching he had received from his parents about not doing JVC and instead finding a way to build a professional life that would include justice work. Given his talents, he could have turned tail and run into a corporate job that would have served him and his young family well. Instead, he started the Community Purchasing Alliance. To me, he had made manifest something that has seemed impossible: creating practical economic opportunity for folks who would otherwise be getting slowly crushed by the hypercapitalist machinery that seems to undergird our world today, and doing so while consciously and conscientiously taking on issues of racism, climate change, and the distribution of wealth in this country.

So, I am here to learn from CPA, for my own benefit and in service to my four nieces and to my students, many of whom are linguistically diverse, first generation students from low-income families of color. In all of them, like my nieces, I see the future, and I want it to be prosperous for everyone who lives and works here.


#10 Gardening in Zone 10

All areas of the continental U.S. are divided into zones so that gardeners may plant with wisdom (and some science) based on the coldest predicted temperatures in their zone or geographic region. If you view the map, you’ll notice that Zone 10 regions are found only in a small region around San Diego, California, a portion of south Texas, and Miami. Miami and the surround are the largest Zone 10 and 10B section of the entire continental U.S.

Gardening is not unlike social work, particularly in Zone 10. Because of the subtropical climate, beautiful and varied plants can root here with little or no effort on our part, much like our many migrant clients, whom, either through their own volition, or by pressure from natural disasters, violence, or economic desperation, must and do find ways to root themselves here in Miami, often without the support of family, a job, or even the promise of economic stability. Yet, they find ways to flourish here. Their resilience is a strength that exemplifies the “strengths-based” perspective that ought to guide our social work practice.

At the same time, as I learned in my first Zone 10 gardening class, vegetables do not grow easily here in our highly acidic, calcitrant soil. For growing food, raised beds are recommended, in which soil can be added to support and sustain the vegetables’ growth.

As social workers in Miami, we may, without judgment, look for ways to nurture the “soil” in which our clients are arriving, living, and growing. For example, research has found that Miami is the U.S. city with the greatest economic inequality. We also have the highest HIV infection rates in the U.S. And we are ground zero for the negative impacts of climate change, with an estimate 1.9 million of us being displaced by the year 2100.

Even for clinical social workers, we cannot avert our eyes in the face of such staggeringly barren soil, so to speak. Instead, these social and economic realities present us with an opportunity to deepen in our compassion for individual clients and commitment to advocacy for social justice for the communities we serve. What are some ways to do this? First, decide what issue demands your attention. Are you and/or your clients living in a neighborhood impacted by climate gentrification? Are your children/your clients’ children attending unsafe schools? Are your elderly clients the victims of abuse or fraud? The list goes on… Once you have decided where to start, or where you need to start because of a client’s request, check out the open referral program through Miami 211 to look for resources. There are so many ways to help! Namaste.

#9 The Sorrowful Mysteries

Standing at the graveside of my cousin, a soldier who was killed in Iraq, I was suddenly speechless (a rare occurrence for a gal whose moniker growing up was “demonstrative”!).

As the burial began, I stood watching as my five uncles, my mother’s brothers, intoned, “Hail Mary, full of grace…” and I was struck by how foreign they looked – tall and truly handsome, each one in his wool topcoat, alternately black and gray and camel-colored. Here they were – proud middle class White professionals and war veterans (who were also by turns alcoholics, adulterers, closeted, anger junkies) praying out loud together – outside in public. Even as I stood at that burial, my experience has been that my Catholic family reserved prayers for church and other inside spaces (with the notable exception of my father’s “prayer” that we get in the G-d D—n car to get to church on time, an incantation so loud, it could not have escaped the neighbors’ notice). Their prayer was so clear, said in their voices – bass, baritones, and a tenor – with such steadfastness, the moment is still a clear memory nearly 15 years since it occurred.

As we stood there at my cousin’s grave, I recalled that my first year in college, a miserable experience, I would run to the Basilica, dipping inside to sit in front of the Pieta. Even though I was leaving the faith, I found deep solace in sitting in front of that statue – Mary holding her son Jesus after he’d been taken down from the cross – the Mother of Sorrow.

Buddhist teacher and psychologist Jack Kornfield speaks about “the tears of the Way”, the tears that are part of being human. When we are made to touch that pool of human sorrow due to life experience, or when we visit it voluntarily in our social work practice, it is understandable that we call out for the support of saints and utter incantations – “Hail Mary, full of grace…” – or even say to ourselves, “I am here with you”. In my experience, if we allow it, this sorrow can drown us with its overwhelming power. Yet, if we go to that deep pool with a sense of connection, being held by those whom we love, seen and unseen, we can be with the sorrow and still live with joy. Ultimately, I think that’s why Catholics refer to the segment of the rosary dedicated to sorrow as “the sorrowful mysteries”; they allow us to touch the infinite mystery of being fully human. Amen.

#8 “Don’t refrain!”

When my father got wind of my commute from my campus apartment on the Cambridge/Somerville line to East Boston (then considered the “murder capitol” of Boston”) for my field ministry placement, he insisted I get a car instead of taking the subway (the “T”) late at night. I could not afford to buy a car outright, so I took over the monthly payments on my dad’s Ford F-150 pick-up truck and started driving that around Boston. (It turned out to be rather handy because I could haul the equipment for the youth band I was meant to shepherd.)

When I needed help with hauling larger items in the truck, I enlisted my then boyfriend, a Canadian innocent who had never driven in Boston traffic and could barely remember how to operate a manual transmission (yes, Dad’s truck is stick shift). As we barreled down the narrow streets, I listened as he, sweating with effort, stripped the gears and had several near accidents. It occurred to me that he didn’t have a feel for how large the truck was, and thus kept stopping short, slamming on the brake to avoid plowing into the row of cars at each stoplight.

After a particularly scary near accident about an hour into our drive, I finally mumbled, “You need to give yourself more time to brake. The truck requires more time to slow down than a Toyota Corolla. Think about the mass of it…” My voice trailed off.

He looked at me wild-eyed, “WHY didn’t you SAY that sooner?!?” His face was flushed bright red. “I could have killed someone!!!!”

I thought about it… “Well, I thought I should refrain. You were literally in the driver’s seat.”

Exasperated, without hesitation, he shot back, “Don’t refrain! Don’t refrain! Don’t refrain when you see I need help and you could help me!”

It was unusual for him to get upset. To be honest, I was the yeller in the relationship. His words really gave me pause. Why was I refraining when I knew he was endangering our safety and that of others? When I knew what he needed to do differently to keep everyone safe?

This week, the truth-telling, spell-binding author Toni Morrison passed away. She spoke eloquently and pointedly about racism, “If you can only be tall because somebody in their needs, you have a problem. And my thought is that White people have a very serious problem…” As a White person, I think about what to do in order to take responsibility for my own biases and internalized racism, as well as how to interrupt situations where racism is driving people’s behaviors. This is different than speaking for people of color or patronizing people of color by speaking on their behalf when they are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. I’m specifically thinking of situations – whether someone is telling a racist joke or deciding against hiring someone because of their race or ethnicity – when, as a White person, I can use my unearned privilege to speak out against racism. These are the kinds of situations in which I hear a voice in my head saying, “Don’t refrain!” White friends, I hope you hear it, too!

#7 Lights of liberty

On Friday evening, I rode down to the Homestead Detention Center, my ride or die partner at the wheel and with a colleague-becoming-friend in the back seat. En route, we stopped for cocktails at Tigertail & Mary, a new hotspot in the Grove neighborhood, and later, coffee at Starbucks. And then a strange thing happened – the vibrant Miami urban life, which had given way to the genteel canopy of oak-lined boulevards through Palmetto – was utterly swallowed up. It was as though we had entered a long, lonely tunnel. There was nothing out here! As we approached the complex, our long, heavy ride was suddenly interrupted by barricades and a prolonged route to the Detention Center.

Once we arrived, we were outside of the compound, and joined the protesters at the “Lights for Liberty” vigil. It was what one would expect – poor sound quality from the stage mics, lots of what my former fiance’s father liked to call “do-gooders” (my tribe!), clergy and other community leaders, and families with kids carrying signs like “families belong together” and “close the camps”. I was struck by one little boy, whose t-shirt read, “kids my age are inside the camps”.

That was it, that was the thing with feathers I was looking for: empathy! Empathy for people in circumstances far worse than our own. I feel like that has been missing from our national discourse since the “birther” movement gained enough national momentum to convince almost half of Republicans to question President Obama‘s citizenship status. It would be hard to believe that racial resentment is still so virulent in the U.S., but these kinds of movements show how much entitlement-based hatred influences public opinion in the U.S.

One thing is clear: racist politics are not just bad for people of color. Racism in our public life hurts White people, too. When we vote against our self-interest to serve our race-based hatred, the result is death or insanity. And you know what they say about insanity: it is doing the same tired old thing over and over again, and expecting different results… It’s never too late to join the boy at the Homestead vigil, to let ourselves be guided by empathy for self and others.

#6 The art of tidying up our homes and our world…

What does the KonMari method have to do with children who are undocumented and living in detention centers around our great nation?

As I was looking around in preparation for moving (yes, again! more on that in a different post), it occurred to me that I am really a terrible packer and need some help. What would my students do if they needed help?, I pondered… YouTube it! Yes! I gave into temptation and started watching a bunch of videos on moving hacks. Not too long into the viewing, videos of Marie Kondo’s KonMari method started popping up in my feed. One woman needed help with her office space, another one was moving from her childhood home to New York City, and so on it went.

I was struck by two things: the incredible beauty of having less and the emotion that was involved. With less, the spaces seemed new and shiny, inviting and restful. But getting there was painful; one of the women cried as she poured over her memorabilia. This is totally understandable. I know a lot of the physical things I carry are connected to memories of transformative times and special places (hence, the ceramic dish containing my love notes from the School for the Work, and my seashell collection gathering dust in another dish). The young woman in one of the videos said it best when she pointed out to herself and her helper that she didn’t need all of these things because the memories were with her in her head.

That seems like true wisdom to me. Letting go of things so that we can be more present and also honoring our memories, knowing they are always with us.

And, then I sat down to write this and saw that I’d left my browser window open to the Rachel Maddow Show and the report on sexual assault of children at the detention centers. My stomach lurched. My heart pounded. I wondered when this moment would arrive; there is no way that all those children trapped in cages could not be targets for predatory behaviors. I feel rage and also confusion. Who will make this stop? How can I help?

It made me wonder, what if we were each able to keep the things we love, that bring us joy (a la Marie Kondo), and give away the rest so that we could be more available to show up in these moments? I think it’s difficult, in a practical sense, for us to put down our work when our spaces and our minds are cluttered, to attend to the common good. And isn’t it for the common good that we address the needs of children?

So, if you’re feeling brave and lucky, try cleaning out and cleaning up. And then, please, then hurry to your local public official’s office or to a Lights for Liberty vigil to lend your newly freed voice and vision to the well-being of these kids. After all, it takes a village, right? 🙂

#5 Expectations (the Blueprint for disappointment)

When I moved to Miami, I expected that my then romantic partner would soon join me here. Then, during a visit from Boston, he drunkenly passed me his cell phone so that I could get an Uber ride for us, and a series of lurid sext messages suddenly popped up on his cell phone, which prompted me to uninvite him from moving from Boston to Miami. (The sexting wasn’t between us…)

Then, there was the brief encounter with the Cuban Republican. Even though we were ideologically opposites, he was so smart and so…together?! He owns a home in Coral Gables (a swanky Cuban American enclave of Miami) with excellent insights in food and spirits (both the kind one drinks and the kind one sees wandering the hallways late at night!). I expected that we could make a go of it – a reverse Carville and Matalin – but he only wanted to see me once every three weeks or so, so that was the end of that.

And now, there is El Guapito, the baby of his family and my baby, too. I often cook meals for him and make him coffee, stroke his ego while he rubs my feet. Mercifully, he can salsa dance, which in my book covers for a myriad of sins. However, I had expected that we would move in together, and now we are six weeks out and his tenant is still in the apartment his family owns, nursing his elderly mother and trying to make ends meet in this crazy Miami housing market. It appears unlikely that we will be able to move in to the apartment when my lease is up here. This leaves me with some choices: stay with a friend temporarily, put my stuff in storage and get an AirBnB for at least a month, or move into another apartment solo…

This leads me back to my primary preoccupation these days: the need for affordable, storm-resistant, low carbon footprint housing in Miami. Apparently, a person earning minimum wage in the city would have to work 94.5 hours per week to afford a one bedroom apartment. In fact, 60% of Miami renters are considered “cost-burdened” (i.e. spend more than 30% of income on renting), more than renters in Los Angeles, Chicago, Brooklyn, or New York. While home prices skyrocket, wages in Miami lag behind. Miami ranks second in the nation for economic inequality, and even as the housing market booms for foreign investors, local Miamians are displaced. Should I expect to find decent housing? Should the city do something to make more affordable housing available and to raise wages? Should we all expect the housing market to crash after the next big hurricane? I smell disappointment…

#4. The Indelible Mark

Across the cheap formica table at El Gallito, my boyfriend’s father inquired, “What is your father’s faith?” In Spanish. My Spanish is probably on-par with that of a small child who cannot yet read, so I stumbled with my response. My parents, who just celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary, are Roman Catholic. “Católico” I replied. And then it finally arrived, “Y tu?” (“And you?”) What is your religion? I could feel my toes tighten against the inside of my sneakers (Allbirds, in case you’re wondering…). I took a deep breath. “Nada.” I said. No religion. He looked at me quizically, confusion mixed with concern. He is a working-class man from Honduras; there is no confusion about this topic in his mind. Why am I confused, he seems to ask.

I am not confused. I was raised by a solemn Catholic matriarch; discussing taboo subjects at the dinner table is considered extremely impolite. I shift in my seat. He is waiting for an answer. His wife is waiting. My boyfriend is quiet. Maybe he is waiting, too. I stumble for the words in Spanish. Slowly, I explain (in broken Spanish), “Despues de la Universidad…

My boyfriend interrupts, “After?” Yes, after. I continue.

Despues de la Universidad, yo trabajo. My boyfriend helps, “Yo trabajé…” Sí.

“Yo trabajé con los niños que habían abusado. Abusado sexualmente. Despues, yo fui a la escuala de posgrado para estudiar teologia. Cardinal Law era el jefe de los sacerdotes ahí…” My voice trails off.

I finish in English: “Cardinal Law, he was the boss of the priests in Boston. I had classmates, they worked for the Cardinal. And the priests. The priests there would not talk to the families…And that was it for me. No more. No more.” He quietly nods his head. There is no more discussion of faith at the brunch table.

When I think about those days as a student at Harvard Divinity School, I recall sitting in Pastoral Care and Counseling, a very popular class led by Dr. Cheryl Giles, known for her tough-love, no-nonsense style. She was delightfully unpretentious and an extremely gifted therapist. Students would come from all over Boston, through the Boston Theological Institute, to take this class. Several of my classmates that semester came over from Weston (yes, this was before the “merger”) or BC and all worked for the Archdiocese of Boston. These were young Catholic women in their early 20’s, armed with little more than their sweater sets and their devotion to the Church. When the abuse crisis broke, they would come to class teary-eyed and dazed, sometimes tearful, and always disoriented. They sat in disbelief and shared that they were constantly taking calls from families in the archdiocese whose children had been sexually abused by clergy, but that the priests on staff would refuse to come to the phones. We were all in shock, I think…

Dr. Judith Herman and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, two pioneers in the field of trauma treatment, both write eloquently about the horror of sexual violence, which shames victims, silences bystanders, and allows people in power to continue perpetuating this harm in the social vacuum that is created by the horror and its aftermath.

Perhaps this is why I watch “Spotlight” whenever I see it in my movie queue. The film deftly shows the range of reactions we may experience – from disbelief to rage – in the face of systematic sexualized violence, and invites us to turn toward one another rather than away from the harm that has been done. Otherwise, how can one go on? Perhaps it is only in this “turning toward” that we may heal, holding both the paradox that being raised Catholic leaves an “indelible mark” and that once that innocent allegiance to the church instilled in us is “cracked“, something new is on its way to being born. Cracking to cracking open…brokenness to broken open. Isn’t that ultimately what being Catholic (or any faith?) teaches us? Once we are broken open, redemption or return to original goodness, is possible…

#3 Single woman seeks affordable housing

Am I better off alone? This can be a deep existential question with lots of teeth-gnashing and tears, but it also becomes a very pragmatic question for women over 40 (like me). As a social justice advocate, I have had many job in which I was underpaid (anti-war community organizer, public interest law office paralegal, etc.). Likewise, as a social worker and a female, I have been in roles with deep pay inequities (such as the $25,000 gap between me (a women’s center director with on-call responsibilities to aid rape victim/survivors working 60 plus hours/week) and my fellow student affairs colleagues came in at 10, ate long lunches, and left at 5 with occasional weekend/night hours(again, making an average of $25K a year more than me. Hmph!).

As the oldest child in a poor New England family, I was expected to go to college and pay for it. Because I was not considered an emancipated minor, it was expensive. I have spent the past two decades paying off my student loan debt …

However, I am newly, joyfully debt-free (wooohooo!!!!!) – no student loan debt, I paid off my car note, and I have no other outstanding major debts (the credit card could use a little cleaning up!). So, now, I turn my eyes to that most tantalizing aspect of the American dream: home ownership. Real estate (cheering in the background; is this how Trump got elected president? he is the embodiment of this America obsession?)…

I’m not sure how long it will take me to save enough to put 20% down on a home (to avoid paying PMI and to be able to pay it off before I’m 75!). And I am thinking about all of the single women who are living their lives, many raising children alone, who also need safe, affordable housing, a way to manage for retirement, and reliable protection from severe storms and flooding.

According to recent census data, ” Among today’s growing single population, 63 percent have never been married, 23 percent are divorced, and 13 percent are widowed”. Of that staggering single population, the majority of which are living independently of their own accord, 53 percent of singles are women.

And, single women outnumber married women in the U.S. Why does this matter? Single women in the U.S. are outpacing single men in home purchases, even though we often lack the capital to afford many of the houses that are available for purchase. Single women face obstacles such as being able to save for a down payment alone, the need for housing where they feel safe, less housing maintenance, and the need for community.

In addition, approximately 41% of births in the U.S. today are to single mothers, 23% of households are led by single moms, and these families are most at risk for living in poverty. It seems that we are moving through a societal shift that will require new ways of approaching child care, wage distribution, and you got it, community-centered affordable housing!

#2 How the child support system fails families

What do we owe to our children? I mean that literally. What do we owe our biological children, if we have them. I do not have children and have held longstanding grudges against my parents (who arguably did meet the standard for “good enough parenting“, but this is another story…) so I used to think of this question primarily in the context of needs and values such as unconditional love, caretaking, and finding opportunities for enrichment (for a summary on the history of research into the value of social environments to develop kids’ brains, check out this article). Perhaps because my parents were broke, or because they could neither afford to send me to college nor to allow me to apply to college as an emancipated minor, I never thought much about what basic minimum requirement ought to be in place for parents.

Then, I fell in love with a man who has children from whom he is estranged. Aside from feeling sadness at the seeming frailty of human connections and anger that he could not see the long-term consequences of his decision to leave his children nearly two decades ago (e.g. that he has almost no relationship with them now; that they experienced violence at home in his absence; that they hate him), the researcher in me wondered, what and how much a parent owes a child when the parent, whether due to mental illness, job loss, incarceration, intimate relationship problems or another cause, is unable to parent that child?

According to a 2015 NPR story, President Ford implemented the child support system in 1975. No-fault divorces had recently been legalized in many states and the child support system that ensued was designed to mirror the nuclear family, with the child(ren) living with their mothers post-divorce, and fathers paying child support. However, very quickly, there was a simultaneous rise in non-marital births, with some women wanting to stay home with young children (understandably) as well as a large number of women entering the workforce (for many families, two-incomes were needed to meet economic pressures), and a large divide between men with a college degree and those without one. The end result is that many children are born to single mothers who do not have the resources to care for the children alone and thus fathers are required to contribute, but often beyond their financial means (for example, a father is unemployed but owe $250/month in child support payments). Because states are under pressure to limit welfare recipients, they push for payments from men who do not have the ability to pay child support.

According to a 2014 report by the Child & Family Research Center at UTAustin, couples who are the least likely to establish paternity are those who had brief and “rocky” relationships prior to conception, often marked by violence, and/or relationships in which the male had multiple sex partners around the same time. This raises questions about the extent to which these individuals have reliable access to birth control, guidance about healthy relationships, and financial literacy.

It seems to me that these predictors of poor paternal involvement (including financial support), as well as risk factors for child abuse could be the points upon which prevention interventions could be built to support the complex forms families take in the world today. This could include many possible interventions including home visits from nurses for new parents, affordable child care for moderate and low-income families, financial literacy training, and access to health care that includes comprehensive sexual health education that empowers young adults.