High performing states use a mix of strategies to boost child support performance. These strategies can be grouped into three tiers. They are:
- Focus on the fundamentals. Make sure that computer systems, new hire reporting, and income withholding (e-IWO) are working well.
- Identify the performance problem. Identify the reason for irregular support payments, intervene early and set realistic obligations.
- Expand access to services. Partner with other programs and reprogram resources to address barriers to nonpayment through family-centered services.
Here’s a little more about each tier:
Tier One: Reduce the compliance gap in current collections—focus on fundamentals. This means a strong technology infrastructure and strong employer interface so that employers report new hires and implement timely income withholding orders. To reduce the compliance gap:
- Automate as much as you can to manage information, case flow, locate, establishment, enforcement, and disbursement—everything from e-IWO to document imaging to data analytics and performance management.
- Clean up your employer database.
- Implement e-IWO, starting with one employer, perhaps, and then bringing in large employers, and then other employers in the state.
- Conduct employer outreach to strengthen your relationships with the employer community, and educate (and re-educate) employers about their new hire reporting responsibilities.
- Identify self-employment and cash wages.
- Implement your access to OCSE’s State Services Portal.
- Verify Social Security numbers, which are key for locating parents.
Tier Two: Identify the reasons for nonpayment. Improving performance requires caseworkers to analyze who is in the caseload, who is paying and who is not, who has the ability to pay but is unwilling, and who is unable to pay the full amount ordered. By setting an order the parents can realistically comply with, we increase reliable payments and decrease the accumulation of unpaid debt. These are essentially the PAID (Project to Avoid Increasing Delinquencies) strategies and include:
- Caseload stratification and segmentation: Use data to understand your caseload and select the right tool for the right person at the right time. Is driver’s license suspension or help getting a job going to be more effective in collecting reliable support payments?
- Early intervention to prevent debt build-up: For example, contact the noncustodial parent when payments stop to find out what happened and work with the parent to get back on track. In fact, if you meet with noncustodial or even both parents before the order is established, you can often start a good relationship with the parents and improve cooperation with the child support office and each other.
- Setting realistic obligations: If you set realistic orders, modify them quickly when circumstances change, and reduce state debt to manageable levels, you can expect compliance. But if the orders are too high, parents can’t comply and will walk away from you and, even worse, from their kids.
Tier Three: Remove the barriers to child support payment by partnering with other programs to offer family-centered services. We know that success in collecting current child support depends on steady jobs and manageable family relationships. Adding a service delivery component to child support programs is a challenge, but it can be done.
- Partner with other programs and community-based organizations in the “bubble chart” domains. For example, many child support offices partner with TANF; workforce agencies; fatherhood, veterans, and prisoner reentry programs; substance abuse services; and literacy and financial education programs. Parenting classes and parenting time, too, can help parents stabilize their lives, get and keep jobs, and be a parent to their children.
- Reprogram resources for less productive activities. Look at what works and what doesn’t work. Collect data. Look at cost-effectiveness. Contempt hearings are expensive. No-shows are expensive. Multiple enforcement efforts and revolving doors are expensive. Is there a better way to increase consistent payments and boost collections?
I look forward to talking more with all of you in the child support community about using the three-tiered approach—a roadmap for improving the outcomes for children and families.