Tag Archives: Early intervention


Four salespeople wearing aprons in hardware storeOur ability to collect consistent child support depends upon employment — and employers. The Family Support Act of 1988 revolutionized the collection of child support by requiring employers to withhold support payments from the paychecks of parents owing support. The law flipped the paradigm: instead of garnishing delinquent payments, the law established a process modeled after income tax withholding to withhold payments as they became due. In fact, the income withholding law is an early application of behavioral economics by setting up automatic payroll deductions with an opt-out to help parents do the right thing.

Next came the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), enacted twenty years ago. PRWORA required employers to report new hires and established the National Directory of New Hires. Obtaining employer data on a systematic basis allowed us to determine whether parents owing support have a regular paycheck coming in.

These two business practices — income withholding and new hire reporting — transformed our program. Today, 75 percent of collections are paid through income withholding, and our current collection rate is at an all-time high of 65 percent. This means that families are more likely than ever to receive regular on-time payments that they can depend upon and budget for. And it means that we could not be where we are today without our essential partnerships with employers. Indeed, employers are our MVPs. In recent years, several child support agencies have launched employer outreach campaigns and established dedicated employer liaisons to keep our employer partnerships robust.

As part of our efforts to facilitate income withholding and new hire reporting, OCSE has prioritized automated tools, portal enhancements, and standardized procedures to streamline the process. These streamlined processes make it easier for employers to help us carry out our mission and get more support to families.

We have made a number of improvements such as:

  • e-IWO — Federal legislation enacted in 2014 requires states to use electronic income withholding. More than 50 states and territories participate in e-IWO, and they issue withholding orders to more than 9,000 unique Federal Employer Identification Numbers. Find out more in Sherri Grigsby’s ‘Employer outreach builds allegiance’ article on page 3.
  • Reporting lump sum payments — Employers can now report lump-sum payments through the federal portal to increase child support collections and help employers comply with state laws.
  • e-Term — Employers can report employee terminations electronically through our portal.
  • Verification of employment — Following a change in federal legislation, we issued guidance (DCL-16-01) to employers and to state child support agencies that a verification of employment sought by a child support agency does not trigger the reporting obligations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
  • New hire reporting pilot — This tested new approaches to improve new hire reporting rates among employers.

Employers do something else for child support collections, too. They provide jobs. Most of the parents in our caseload are working and raising families. The most effective way to improve our collection rate is to increase the number of parents who are employed and paying monthly support through income withholding. A growing number of employers are providing job opportunities for parents with a criminal record and have signed the White House Employer Fair Chance Business Pledge, a commitment to consider job applicants with a record. We have a link to the pledge on the OCSE Employers webpage.

OCSE launched the Child Support Noncustodial Parent Employment Demonstration (CSPED) in 2012. A number of other research projects have studied interventions designed to improve the employment outcomes of low-income adults. Our colleagues at the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) within the Administration for Children and Families are publishing a series of briefs as part of their Employment Strategies for Low-Income Adults Evidence Review (ESER), a systematic review of studies published between 1990 and mid-2014 regarding employment and training interventions for low-income adults.

In the August 2016 Child Support Report, our spotlight is on employers. Read this month’s issue to learn more about the important connection between fatherhood and jobs, why the federal office is reaching out to employers, and how Illinois is helping employers get more money to families.

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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:

  • 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.
  • Reprogramresources 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.


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