The child support program has a deep culture of innovation and investment in technology. Technology makes it possible to locate parents and enforce support for 17.5 million children. Technology also can help us identify effective enforcement strategies, intervene early when payments fall off, and support excellent customer service at every point of contact with our program.
The January 2012 Child Support Report highlights two of the ways that technology is improving our case management and customer service, through early-intervention “alerts” in Colorado and electronic document management in West Virginia.
We need technology to help us:
- Locate income and assets for the 75 percent of our caseload that does not need hands-on service intervention.
- Identify the 25 percent of parents who lack steady employment and analyze service needs. Technology can help us conduct case analysis, segment our caseload, use data analytics, and track performance data at the caseworker, manager and executive levels. We don’t need to impute income on a routine basis anymore. We can develop income profiles of our noncustodial parents. No case should be going to court on a contempt motion without an analysis of the real financial situation of the noncustodial parent.
- Improve customer service for a new generation of parents, many of whom grew up without a parent, have diverse ethnic backgrounds, and get their information through technology. We can expand interactive websites and voice response systems. We can use cell phone texts and email alerts to parents. We can make applications for services available online for our program and other programs, and link parents to benefit calculators and program navigators. We can develop apps, such as text4baby.
- Develop online staff training and online resource libraries.
- Tell our story differently through the electronic face of our program—not only to each other, but to specific groups of stakeholders, community organizations and the public—through customer-friendly websites, short videos of real parents describing their experiences, and useful online resources.
A final note: According to the USDA Expenditures on Children by Families report, the costs of child-rearing vary considerably by household income level and age of the child. The Cost of Raising a Child Calculator can estimate how much it will annually cost to raise a child. This may help your agency work with parents to plan better for overall expenses. Asset-building strategies like those in Texas (see the Child Support Report) present ways we can encourage both parents to manage their money so they are better able to support their children and improve their own situations.
Please submit a comment on this blog with a way that we might use technology as we head into a new year filled with great potential for our program.