‘Bubble Chart’ Mirrors Child Support Work Nationwide

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.

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3 Responses to ‘Bubble Chart’ Mirrors Child Support Work Nationwide

  1. Jim Butler says:

    The center bubble’s core mission of find ’em, bind ’em, and mind ’em has been the foundation for the automated child support applications nationwide. That’s good and proper because any enterprise finds the biggest bang-for-the-buck first in making transaction processing routine. The 75% of non-custodial parents who pay on-time are proof that those transaction systems and business processes have worked.

    Former Commissioners Heller and Bean in the most recent Child Support Report (Dec. 2010) both indicate that the future is in that 20% tail of the Pareto 80-20 rule:

    – “What I see coming at us now: using automation to make the program more customized, more responsive to individual families’ needs. The first stage of automation was about making things more consistent, so everybody was treated the same and got the same access to the same enforcement mechanisms. The next stage is about everybody getting just what they need when they need it.” – Dr. Sherri Heller

    – “Technology will help caseworkers focus on the cases that need a personal touch, while effectively handling the routine activities.” – Commissioner Margot Bean

    These are the bubbles on the outside ring. As the states discover that their aging systems need replacement let’s make sure they are more than just transaction processors. They should have better management reporting through Business Intelligence (BI) and incorporate the most efficient reengineered business processes that may include imaging, electronic filing and signatures, and more advanced communications. The green-screen systems from the 80’s and 90’s, maintained by dinosaur IT specialists like myself, need to give way to the more robust, productive, and high-performance platforms of today. But because government systems have to have such long life cycles, let’s leapfrog today’s approach and start working on tomorrow’s.

    In the past year a new school of thought has arisen in the Business Process Reengineering (BPR) realm. It’s called Adaptive Case Management (ACM). Thought leaders in the BPR field are coming to the realization that traditional BPR does not work as well for cases that last 18 or 21 years. It’s not about bringing case after case to an assembly-line process but bringing the proper process to the specific case when it’s most beneficial. Invariably, this requires the expertise of a child support case manager in knowing what approach and which collaborations would work best for this instance. The spectrum ranges from the velvet glove of assisting a non-custodial parent in finding a new job to the iron-fisted pursuit of criminal non-support through the PSOC program. Which way to go is difficult to capture with the discrete data fields our current systems contain but that’s why the word “adaptive” comes into play.

    Unfortunately ACM is still in its embryonic stage but our new systems must not only be great at transaction processing but be the best adaptive case management tool possible so that the child support program can realize the initiatives we have set for ourselves.

  2. Eliza says:

    I agree with Jim and his quote from Dr. Heller. We need to custom tailor education to the student and the family. The cookie cutter education techniques of the past are not working.

  3. Lorie Grimes-Beall says:

    Things I notice I can help people with in regard to Adaptive Case Management (ACM) that seems to be in line with the federal vision (I like the comments/quots above):
    If case does not quality for closure, how can you apply ACM?
    • Does the Arrears Type on case and Case Perspective qualify it for COAP (compromise arrears)? Does the case/NCP quality for a Family Reunification COAP?
    (should we consider or are we sending out un-solicited applications to good candidates?) Are NCP’s aware there are Federal Poverty Guidelines (percentages)?
    • Is the NCP eligible for EITC or Child Tax Credit? (Tax Credit Outreach Campaign)
    • Do NCP’s realize if they get the arrears amount lowered or if Disability/SSA only item in their banking deposits, they can minimize likelihood of bank levies & fees?
    • Might the NCP be eligible for SSA Disability or Retirement or the class-action wrongly-denied Benefit while jailed? Do they know about retroactive lump sums?
    (I have talked a few NCP’s into applying for SSA, especially if they are on leave from a job for medical reasons/surgery, etc)
    • Do the children qualify for SSA derivative benefits (if derivatives from NCP’s benefit, s/he gets credit toward child support in California and many other states)
    • Does the case have stale-dated payments owed to either party (CP or NCP) you may communicate with – which could be released or applied?
    • Does NCP understand R&A if they are unhappy with current support amount; do they understand time deadlines and that they must sign/return I&E’s & Stips?
    (do they realize that they should reveal all natural minor children that they are supporting so they can be taken into account?)
    • Do parties know they can review online version of SGC? Do they realize percentage visitation plays an important factor in computations?
    • Can you provide Family Court sources, outreach items; job resources, e.g. employment development department (EDD), etc.?
    • Does NCP have suspended driver’s license – do they know they can work with LCSA to help them out? Do they know there are resourcs if they need passport for work?
    • Do NCP’s know there are resources available if/while in prison? Do they know many states will reduce or zero order support while incarcerated?
    Note: I like the comment in the Hispanic Resources article that “People must see your ad at least seven times before they will acknowledge it. Repetition is key!”
    I have had many cases where NCP’s tell me they are less afraid of child support office once we try to inform them of options, and they feel less inclined to go ‘underground”.

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To get help with your case or learn how to apply for child support, contact your state or tribal child support agency.  This is a moderated blog. All comments will be reviewed and cleared before they are posted. See Comment Policy.