Many of you have seen OCSE’s “bubble chart,” a simple picture of the innovative partnerships and initiatives that state, county, and tribal child support programs have developed to help parents improve their ability and willingness to support their children. Through collaborations with courts, workforce agencies, prisons, fatherhood programs, domestic violence coalitions, and faith-based and community organizations, we have begun to put the bubble chart in action.
Our automated enforcement strategies work well for most parents in our caseload—the 75 percent or so of parents who are regularly employed or have assets. Most child support is collected from noncustodial parents through automatic employer payroll withholding (70 percent). Other collection methods include withholding federal and state income tax refunds and unemployment benefits, bank account seizures, denying passports, and denying or revoking driver’s and professional licenses. OCSE maintains the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS), including web-based portals that operate applications, such as Query Interstate Cases for Kids (QUICK), to simplify interstate data exchanges and exchanges between states and employers.
However, traditional enforcement tools have been less effective for the approximately 25 percent of parents who owe child support but have a limited ability to pay. We know from research that 70 percent of unpaid child support debt is owed by parents earning no or low-reported income. A growing body of research suggests that reduced orders and debt balances can improve employment and child support outcomes.
The idea behind the bubble chart has slowly taken root within the child support community over the past decade: turning nonpayers into paying parents. Sometimes the most effective strategy to increase support for a child is to connect a father to a job. The bubble chart encourages child support programs to intervene early to address the underlying reasons for nonsupport—whether it is unemployment, parental conflict, or disengagement. By broadening our strategies and partnering with other programs, we can do more to assure that parents provide their children with financial and emotional support throughout childhood.
I believe the bubble chart represents the direction that child support professionals are leading the program—toward a more family-centered approach to delivering child support services. Despite budget constraints, we have a lot to look forward to as we continue to innovate and to put families first.