Front Page

Bridgeport's Welfare-to-Work Initiative Targets "Unseen Parent"

How do you connect with a person who doesn't work, doesn't go to school, doesn't use the services of organizations, and doesn't have custody of his or her child on welfare? Bridgeport is answering this question with the help of a Welfare-to-Work program operated under a competitive federal grant by The WorkPlace, Inc., Southwestern Connecticut's Regional Workforce Development Board. Because Workplace officials believe that the employment of individuals fitting this description - known as "non-custodial parents" - is part of the missing bridge to family unity and self sufficiency, their Welfare-to-Work effort includes services customized for them.

Like most other urban areas across the nation, Bridgeport has its share of non-custodial parents - most of them male, most of them in need of a job. With fear, distrust, a desire to avoid "the system," and lack of targeted and coordinated outreach often keeping them away from formal service systems, non-custodial parents find ways to stay in touch with their families and participate in a system of support that blends welfare benefits and other non-formal income. Though their families may grow and their relationships may change, the habit of avoiding governmental systems is hard for non-custodial parents to break.

In collaboration with the City, The WorkPlace's Welfare-to-Work program is currently providing pre-employment training, on-the-job training, job search assistance, job placement and retention support, transportation support, repaired car purchase options, lifelong learning incentives, and post-employment training for 154 individuals; among the 81 Bridgeport residents in this group are 16 non-custodial parents who are present despite the obstacles standing in the way of their participation, and despite some serious personal concerns.

  • In addition to an overwhelming fear of "the system" in general, many believe that their earnings from jobs would be taken away by programs which provide child support benefits to their children. If you believe that your earnings will be taken away, why enter training and a job? The answer: Despite the fact that in some instances earnings may be tapped for child support, training and a job represent assets having long-term value.

  • Without formal connections with social service and government agencies, non-custodial parents achieve the goal of being "unseen by the system." It follows that, if non-custodial parents have developed the habit of avoiding the system, it is up to the system to find and recruit them.

  • Nationally, stringent Welfare-to-Work eligibility criteria for non-custodial parents have made enrollment difficult for them. To be eligible, they must be contending with two of three barriers: 1) no GED or high school diploma and low reading and math skills; 2) the need for substance abuse treatment; and 3) a poor work history. If a non-custodial parent has a high school diploma and does not need treatment or will not disclose a substance abuse problem, enrollment is not possible - despite their need for assistance. Also, either the child or custodial parent must receive welfare. For those non-custodial parents who are not connected to either the custodial parent or the child, determining eligibility for this final criteria is difficult because confidentiality restrictions prevent the release of non-custodial status information.

  • The lack of system readiness poses an obstacle. After years of invisibility, non-custodial parents are not the kinds of clients workforce development programs are accustomed to serving. As a developing system, Welfare-to-Work is encountering difficulties throughout the nation in recruiting and engaging non-custodial parents whose tendency to avoid the system and whose misperceptions concerning the loss of personal and financial control keep them hidden.

Responding to these obstacles, The WorkPlace has developed strategies which focus on contacting, enrolling and providing service to non-custodial parents. The WorkPlace:

  1. Partners with the City to take advantage of its experience in serving single adults, some of whom may be eligible non-custodial parents.

  2. Coordinates recruitment through entities which are in contact with potential program eligibles. Included are the Office of Child Support and Enforcement, day incarceration programs, adult probation, family court, churches, and other Welfare-to-Work programs in which custodial parents (in most cases, women) may learn about The WorkPlace programs and share the information with non-custodial parents.

  3. Makes the programs appealing to the non-custodial parents by combining traditional classroom training with on-the job training in industries such as upholstery repair, concrete restoration and resurfacing, and sheet metal work.

  4. Secures commitments from employers who are willing to hire non-custodial parents and includes this information in recruiting.

  5. Offers post-employment training opportunities in growth industries - e.g., food service, information technology - that will allow for skills upgrading and higher educational attainment.

"Cities across this nation share the need to bring fathers and families on welfare together," says Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, "and Welfare-to-Work programs offer an effective web for reaching "unseen parents.'"

The WorkPlace's Welfare-to-Work program began in July 1998 with the award of a three-year, $5,000,000 competitive grant to serve a total of 550 people in the Southwestern Connecticut region. While there are 20 communities in this region, the City of Bridgeport is home to 70 percent of the people in need of the program's services - primarily long-term welfare recipients whose profile of limited education, low skill levels, little or no work experience, and need for substance abuse treatment makes them the hardest to employ.

Since the start of the program, 73 participants - most of them Bridgeport residents - have been placed in jobs. Of these, 39 have met the 60-day retention target and five have met the six- month target.

Additional information on The WorkPlace's efforts in Bridgeport is available from Barbara Stracka at (203) 576-7030, ext. 308, or at

Return to Previous Page


U.S. Mayor

Home Search