The 10-month-old twins call Frandy “Da Da.” He changes their diapers, mixes up their formula, and helps shoulder the burden of providing food, clothing, and medical care.
But the girls aren’t his children; Frandy’s girlfriend Cassie was pregnant when they started dating. When, a few months later, the two decided to move in together, “I knew raising the kids was part of the package,” said Frandy, a 23-year-old from inner-city Boston.
His own 6-year-old daughter lives across town with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Frandy sends a check every month.
Such complex family arrangements are becoming increasingly common, particularly among the poor, like Frandy and Cassie. Nearly 40 percent of unwed parents with low education levels share childrearing responsibilities with a co-residential boyfriend or girlfriend, according to a 2013 report from the United States Census Bureau. Oftentimes these couples share at least one biological child, but in 27 percent of relationships, either mom or dad is stepping in to raise children they didn’t conceive.
U.S. government programs designed to help such families, however, haven’t evolved with the population. Based on decades-old stereotypes that single mothers are raising children alone and single dads are “deadbeats,” the majority of United States anti-poverty programs almost exclusively serve women and children, said Jacquelyn Boggess, co-director of the Center for Family Policy and Practice, a Wisconsin-based think tank that focuses on supporting low-income parents. The welfare system, as a result, can become a muddled mess of rearranging rather than relieving poverty. Single, non-custodial fathers bear the brunt. But dads don’t suffer alone. Because the poor pull together to support one another, everyone absorbs the pinch.