Data and research are engines that drive the national child support program. Data help us know whether we are on track to meet our performance goals. They help us identify the best case strategies to pursue. Research and data help us gain public support for our program and develop policies and initiatives that can effectively respond to trends in our caseload.
For example, the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Current Population Survey” shows us that the child support program’s caseload reflects societal trends in poverty, nonmarital childbearing, divorce, and families who receive public assistance. The “Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing” national survey of 5,000 newborns in hospitals, conducted by a team of researchers at Columbia and Princeton Universities, helps us understand the causes and consequences of nonmarital childbearing. This research helps us to better understand the living situations of our customers.
Research helped us understand why noncustodial parents’ arrears accumulate—and as a result of that research, child support professionals have developed projects to better manage these arrears. Research also taught us that we can increase support payments if we can help unwed parents negotiate access and visitation arrangements. And child support professionals have developed mediation projects that help parents put together parenting plans. Our research about undistributed collections has led to ways to reduce those amounts.
In the last 15 years, research has helped to spur the program’s shift to a broader set of family-centered strategies. We now know that the more involved the dad is emotionally, the more likely he will pay child support. We know that many fathers need services to help them understand the importance of their role as a dad. And we have learned that the child support program is uniquely positioned to reach out to low-income men through services that lead to employment and through access and visitation services.
At OCSE, we are thinking hard about ways to increase our data analysis and research opportunities to identify evidence-based practices that we should incorporate into our program. At the federal level, OCSE is developing a data warehouse to help us analyse our FPLS and administrative data. We are partnering with our Department’s research and evaluation offices, the Office of Family Assistance (which administers the TANF program), and the U.S. Department of Labor to obtain research evidence about certain workforce program models. And, through a small number of grants, we have been encouraging state child support agencies to develop partnerships with their state universities to use research to learn about more effective ways of doing business.
I look forward to further research as OCSE strengthens its partnerships—and creates new ones—with agencies at every level of government. We have the latest results about our partnership that drives the insurance match program (see page 1 in the February Child Support Report) and the passport denial program’s partnership with employers (see page 6 in the CSR).
I also look forward to seeing research evidence and other data from your states, counties, and tribal agencies. Despite tight budgets, you continue to innovate and test problem-solving solutions, for example, interactive websites to better communicate with customers (see page 4 in the CSR)—perhaps one of the most important opportunities to connect with our diverse customer caseload.