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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Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions

U.S. Supreme CourtJune 20 marked the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Turner v. Rogers case. (See the July 2012 Child Support Report.)  Mr. Turner, the noncustodial parent, was ordered to pay $51.73 per week in child support. Over the course of several years, he was held in civil contempt for nonpayment and incarcerated a number of times.

After the last hearing, Mr. Turner appealed. He alleged that his constitutional rights were violated. He argued that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment required the state to provide him with appointed counsel in a civil contempt hearing that could lead to incarceration. Neither the custodial parent nor the state child support program was represented by an attorney at the hearing.

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On Father’s Day, the importance of being a father

Father and daughter sillouetteThe role of fathers in the American family is changing. Fathers who live with their children are spending more time with them and taking part in a wider range of activities, according to a recent Pew Research Center analysis.

Almost all fathers who live with their children take an active role in their day-to-day lives through activities such as sharing meals, helping with homework, and playing. At the same time, Census data reflect that more fathers are single parents—in fact, 18 percent of custodial parents are fathers.

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Changes in motherhood and youth

mother's day cardEvery Mother’s Day, I gave my mom a gift—the potholders I wove on the loom myself or the ashtray with my picture on the bottom that I made at school. I would hide the present in my closet because my mom was at home, as were most moms in the 1950s.

Could these moms of yesteryear ever imagine that someday many moms would be the breadwinners of young families? Would they have guessed that women might exceed men in the number of college graduates?

A series of reports from the Pew Research Center describes the changes in American families and attitudes in the last 50 or 60 years. One report finds that more young women than young men say that achieving success in a high-paying career or profession is important in their lives.

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Interoperable computer systems will mean better customer service

interoperability2Technology has the power to help break down silos between state health and human services programs and improve customer service. The promise of interoperable computer systems is that families will not have to go through multiple applications, interviews and appointments to receive services, and taxpayers will save money.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is spurring states across the Nation to create new eligibility and enrollment computer systems for Medicaid and health insurance exchanges. The ACA presents a unique opportunity for state health and human services programs to integrate their systems both vertically and horizontally, and bring our programs one step closer to the “no wrong door” approach to service delivery. In the past, this was not possible due to the requirement to cost allocate federal dollars across multiple programs.

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