Serving three generations of families

Young man and boy (2-4), drawing on wall with chalk, rear viewThe need for child support is as old as history. Families have always been complicated and diverse. But the way we obtain support for children has to change with every generation, as each faces different challenges, has different values, and has different families. What changes does the rising generation of parents in our caseload face?

  • Economic opportunity: We see a widening social divide in economic opportunity: the wage gap is growing. And a widening social divide in family stability: disparities in children’s life chances are growing.
  • Labor market: There are fewer stable jobs for low-skilled workers. Available jobs for low-skilled workers are lower-paying, with few career advancement opportunities and no benefits.
  • Education and job path for men and women: 20 percent of men in their prime working years are not working. (When I was growing up in the 1950s, 5 percent of men were not working.) Over the past 25 years, we’ve seen a steep increase in women’s employment, but men’s employment fell. Although a gender wage gap remains, women’s wages have risen and men’s have fallen. Men, particularly men of color, are much more likely to have been incarcerated, further reducing their job and family opportunities.
  • Family structures: Complex families involve multiple partners, multiple parents, and more grandparents and relatives raising children. More children are born outside of marriage. In fact, the majority of all children born to mothers under 30 in this country are born outside of marriage. Same-sex marriage, assisted reproduction, and open adoption are additional facets of modern family life.
  • Two words, smart phones: The rising generation uses technology to obtain information and connect to others. Among low-income young people, smart phones are the connection to the outside world.  This generational shift profoundly impacts how the child support program can successfully interact with young parents.

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Reaching diverse customers through visual communications

Illustration of worker in child support officeInfographics are everywhere. A staple on websites across the internet, those colorful, poster-like illustrations grab our attention and help us visualize data. They can display facts and figures, research and surveys, ideas and trends, or simply a marathon route. Infographics may be old communications, but recently they’ve been paired with social media to engage target audiences.

Just in time for the recent Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15), OCSE designed our first infographic in Spanish. Following rave reviews of our storybook, Child Support Services and You, Let’s Work Together, our communications team crafted the infographic with parents in mind. How do I apply for Child Support services describes various ways to apply with a local agency. See the infographic, in both English and Spanish, on the Families page on our website.

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The Affordable Care Act will help parents and children in our caseload

Logo badge that links to healthcare.govWe have 40 million people in our child support caseload, including about 24 million adults. A third of the people in our caseload have incomes below the federal poverty level. According to a recent Urban Institute analysis of Census data (now on the OCSE website), our program served nearly 80 percent of poor custodial families in 2009. The Affordable Care Act will help make health care coverage more affordable and accessible for the people in our caseload. While obtaining medical support for children remains an ongoing responsibility, your child support office also can refer parents—both mothers and fathers—to the Health Insurance Marketplace.

States have new opportunities to expand Medicaid coverage to include adults without children living at home who have incomes at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level (about $15,000 for an individual). Community health centers have more funding than before. When I was a young mother, I didn’t have health insurance. We went to a public health center for my kids’ check-ups. My first son was born three months prematurely. We were still paying $10 per month toward that hospital bill when my second son had emergency surgery. I applied for Medicaid. I will always remember how I felt when my caseworker said, “We can take care of it. We can cover the bill. Don’t worry.”

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What is our medical support road map?

Photo of smartphone showing road map, on top of a paper road mapOn Oct. 1, 2013, enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace will begin under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), while coverage will begin on Jan. 1, 2014. Child support agencies have an important role to play in connecting uninsured parents and their children to health care coverage by providing them with information about and referrals to the Health Insurance Marketplace.

But as important as these dates are for consumers, they are not child support program deadlines. Child support program requirements will not change on Oct. 1 and Jan. 1. Instead, we will continue to keep doing what we are doing—what our statute directs us to do, which is to provide for child health care coverage in child support orders. Employers still have the same medical child support responsibilities to respond to the National Medical Support Notice as they had before. Over time, the ACA will likely impact how we carry out our medical child support responsibilities, but not directly and not tomorrow.

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New campaign targets children of incarcerated parents

Girl with new Sesame Street character named MurrayOn June 12, just before Father’s Day, the White House hosted a Champions of Change event honoring 12 individuals who have dedicated themselves to supporting children of incarcerated parents and their caregivers. Some of these children and caregivers attended the festivities, and so did some Muppets!

Perhaps the most exciting part of the event was the announcement of a new partnership with Sesame Workshop (a nonprofit, educational organization) to reach young children of incarcerated parents. Sesame Workshop’s newest initiative, Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration, provides free, bilingual (English/Spanish), multimedia tools for families with young children (ages 3 to 8) who have an incarcerated parent. The tools include a guide for parents and caregivers, a children’s storybook, Sesame Street videos, a tip sheet, and the Sesame Street: Incarceration mobile app, all at SesameStreet.org/Incarceration.

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Health care options for families

Bubble ChartOne of the “bubbles” in the child support bubble chart is health care coverage. In identifying family-centered strategies over the last four years, I have highlighted family health care needs. Through our medical support activities, the child support program has long had the responsibility to obtain private health insurance for the children in our caseload. Now we can play a critical role in providing information to both parents about the range of available health care options—for their children and for themselves.

Later this month, OCSE plans to launch two new fact sheet series to explain child support and health care connections under the Affordable Care Act and to address promising medical child support policies and practices under Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. Watch for them on our website, www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/css.

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Child support program engages veteran and military families

Girl hugging man in military uniformMay highlights veterans and military families. In addition to National Military Appreciation Month, May hosts Armed Forces Day (May 18) and of course Memorial Day (the 27th).  Also, May 10 is Military Spouse Appreciation Day.

As child support workers, we have an obligation to work with families at their most vulnerable. We cannot repay the sacrifice that our service men and women and their families make for our country, but for many reasons, the child support program must pay special and well-deserved attention to military members, veterans, and their families. Here are some of those reasons:

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The child support program plays many roles in minority health

Three minority childrenTwo major health care dates are approaching rapidly: October 2013 when the Health Insurance Marketplace opens for enrollment and January 2014 when health coverage begins. Have you considered what this means to your program? Many of the families we serve might not realize that they are newly eligible for Medicaid and other state health insurance programs or that assistance is available to make health insurance more affordable. It’s important to educate families about coverage options and direct them to appropriate resources that will help them with the enrollment process.

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Three Tiers—a roadmap of strategies to improve program performance

Three push pins on a roadmapHigh performing states use a mix of strategies to boost child support performance. These strategies can be grouped into three tiers. They are:

  1. Focus on the fundamentals. Make sure that computer systems, new hire reporting, and income withholding (e-IWO) are working well.
  2. Identify the performance problem. Identify the reason for irregular support payments, intervene early and set realistic obligations.
  3. 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: Read More: Three Tiers—a roadmap of strategies to improve program performance

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Statistics are critical to our program

Colorful bar graph through a magnifying glassI just learned (via the U.S. Census Bureau) that 2013 is International Year of Statistics. A page full of statistics can be scary to some, but statistics is one of my favorite words. In OCSE, we have a division of dedicated staff members who collect and analyze statistics—a critical component of our program. Because we audit program data (through another OCSE office of dedicated auditors), we have program data that we trust.

Why do I like statistics? Well, first of all, child support statistics have given us the tools we need for measuring and presenting the efficiency and effectiveness of our national program to the public. The fact that we can measure our performance, and do so with audited, accurate data, has helped us demonstrate program accountability, identify program trends, and correct course when those data identify performance problems.

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