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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Setting our sights high in 2013

Girl reaching up to treeThis New Year, I want to first congratulate all of you—child support professionals in state, tribal and local agencies, and in OCSE offices around the country—for setting your sights high on helping children, parents and families throughout 2012, and succeeding in countless ways.

January always seems to call out for an ambitious list of plans. As we work together to improve the lives of families in 2013, here are three aspects of our program that OCSE will focus on next year.

Program modernization

Today’s technology makes it possible to use data analytics to stratify child support caseloads and identify specific strategies to maximize success. We are no longer in a world that requires us to throw every enforcement tool at every case to see what sticks. Instead, we have the know-how to use program resources more efficiently by matching the right child support tools to the right case at the right time.

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Model Tribal System readying for launch

Today 58 tribes operate start-up or comprehensive child support programs—10 more than a year ago. These tribal programs are reaching custodial and noncustodial parents in their communities, helping them support their children financially and enrich their children’s lives emotionally, in a culturally appropriate manner.

As partners in the national child support program, OCSE and tribal child support programs will cross a much-anticipated milestone early next year when OCSE launches the Model Tribal System (MTS). The MTS is an award-winning, state-of-the-art computer system designed to recognize the importance and benefits of integrating automation in the daily operations of comprehensive tribal child support programs. The MTS will serve as a key tool for programs to improve efficiency in case management and develop other areas of the program, offering tribal agencies and consortia direct access to similar technologies and automated systems that state child support agencies have had for years. The MTS uses open software to support organizations with up to 25 offices and 100 concurrent users, handling workloads of up to 25,000 cases.

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Change management in the child support program

Road sign "Change Ahead"“Managing change in the workplace” is a catchphrase in today’s government and business worlds. Within our child support community, we, too, are exploring ways to manage change in our program.

In many ways, the child support program exemplifies a “culture of change.” Child support has steadily evolved over the decades from a welfare cost-recovery model to a major family support program in a technologically savvy environment. We are combining traditional and automated child support tools with innovative, family-focused approaches to promote parental responsibility, to move more nonpaying cases to paying status, and to increase the reliability of child support payment. The “bubble chart” illustrates this approach.

At the same time, the child support program in a number of states and counties has been grappling with another set of changes related to staff reductions, limited resources, and reorganization. While our bubble chart helps us envision the program’s culture change, our challenge is to create an environment that stimulates this new approach in the context of more constrained program resources.

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New poverty data matter to our program

Colorful number blocksOn Sept. 12, the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual household income report, Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011. Each year, child support professionals eagerly anticipate this release as we develop our priorities and projects that will best serve families. The report is based on a yearly Census survey and represents the official federal poverty numbers. These numbers reflect money income only and do not reflect in-kind public assistance or tax credits. (You can see a summary brief from the HHS Assistant Secretary of Planning and Evaluation.

First the good news: the Census Bureau data indicate that the number and rate of children living in poverty has leveled off. There were 16.1 million children under 18 years old living in poverty in 2011, not a significant change from 2010. The child poverty rate was 21.9 percent in 2011, also not a significant change. In 2011, the poverty threshold for a family of one adult and two children was $18,123, and for one adult $11,702.

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Preparing for an emergency

Girl filling gallon container with waterWhen an earthquake shook the East Coast a year ago, damage in DC was minimal, although OCSE staff was a bit rattled. However, the experiences of many of our colleagues in child support offices around the country have been far more challenging—many of you have been hit hard, both professionally and personally, yet you have persevered to return to business as usual after floods, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes and tornados. You speak from experience: We must all prepare for disasters.

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