Tag Archives: Family-Centered Services

Making policies work for families

Kids counting coinsMoms and dads raising children on their own work hard to keep the rent paid, milk in the refrigerator, and growing children in shoes. It’s a struggle to manage on a tight budget. The child support program collected $28.6 billion for almost 16 million children in 2015. Ninety-five percent of the money collected was paid to families. However, the remaining 5 percent, or $1.3 billion, was kept by the government to repay cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or foster care program funded under title IV-E of the Social Security Act. That is because families are required to sign over their rights to support when they apply for cash assistance. Even after they stop receiving assistance, the government keeps a share of the support collected.

When that happens, the government, not families, benefits from child support. Cost recovery is not the best use of the money paid by parents for their children. Instead, that money could be going to support children. More money to families means bus fare to get to work, school clothes, diapers, and other necessities. Research finds that family distribution policies remove disincentives for parents to pay support, increase family income, and reduce the need for families to apply for cash assistance in the first place, with little net cost to the government. These policies are family-centered and help parents provide for their children.

It is time to renew the policy dialogue on family distribution. In 2006, the Congress enacted the Deficit Reduction Act providing states with a set of options to pay 100 percent of the money to the children, instead of keeping some of the money to reimburse government costs. In addition, the President’s FY 2017 budget proposes to offset some of the revenue loss that states would incur by using child support to support children rather than government budgets. One of the five program goals articulated in the National Child Support Strategic Plan is to pay collected child support to families. We encourage states to consider adopting family distribution and pass-through options authorized under the Deficit Reduction Act.

Families need more than child support

Child support income alone is not enough, however. Child support programs can help families manage their tight budgets in other ways. Many parents have limited access to resources such as employment, education and training opportunities linked to economic security; and reliable housing, transportation, and quality full-day child care that will allow parents to pursue job opportunities. The stress of living in poverty without access to adequate mental and physical health services and social support can lessen parental sensitivity and emotional support for children. And, in turn, when child development is not fully supported, children may be more challenging to raise, less prepared for school, more likely to drop out, and bound for their own adult life in poverty.

Along with child support, TANF, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and other safety net programs can help provide supplemental income for families. Noncustodial parents also need help. In the May 2016 Child Support Report (CSR), we feature New York City’s Paycheck Plus, a three-year program testing the expansion of the EITC for workers without dependent children, many who are noncustodial parents. You’ll also read about the comprehensive approach Washington state is taking to help parents. The Alternative Solutions Program helps them find jobs and keep them by addressing issues that might impact job stability like transportation and child care. Basic assistance, work-related activities, and child care are key services that support unemployed or underemployed parents with insufficient income, limited jobs skills and other barriers to employment.

A two-generation approach helps parents and children

Child support agencies can partner with TANF agencies to coordinate across programs for parents and programs for children to provide comprehensive two-generation approaches that work for families. We encourage child support agencies to work with TANF agencies to promote and support whole family approaches such as:

  • Linkages between high quality educational services for children and workforce development services for their parents;
  • Programmatic efforts to help parents gain the skills, knowledge, and resources to support their child’s development;
  • Ensuring that families have access to the economic and social supports needed for stability and resilience, and healthy child development; and,
  • Helping families build social capital that can support both resilience and upward mobility.

We can do a better job at connecting parents to the services they need for their family such as health care, food assistance, domestic violence intervention services, and other social services. Asset-building and financial management programs are available to both parents in many communities. We need to provide case management tools to child support workers so that they know who to refer and where to refer families for the help they need. Moms and dads can’t raise kids on love alone.

Learn more in the May 2016 CSR about the ways child support offices are making a positive difference.

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National Child Support Strategic Plan

Image of child looking forward with the words "National Child Support Strategic Plan for 2015-2019" on it.The national child support program has a long history of program innovation, performance measurement, and continuous improvement. Every five years, our community engages in a consensus-building process to create a new national strategic plan that will further strengthen the program and lead it into the future.

This month, we are publishing the National Child Support Strategic Plan for 2015-2019. The plan reflects the collaborative efforts and diverse perspectives of the state, tribal, and county child support agencies that — along with the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement — make up the national program. The plan is organized around five principles that represent a coherent vision for the future of the program.

FAMILIES FIRST

A family-centered child support program partners with parents to promote consistent support payments.

CASE-SPECIFIC TOOLS

An effective child support program uses the right tools to meet the needs of the specific case.

MODERN TECHNOLOGY

An efficient child support program incorporates modern technology.

RESOURCEFUL LEADERSHIP

An enterprising child support program leverages sufficient resources to meet its mission.

EVIDENCE-BASED

A high-performing child support program is evidence-based.

In addition to these five principles, the plan lays out 25 goals and more than a hundred innovative strategies that many state, tribal, and county child support agencies are already putting into practice.

To ensure the continued effectiveness of the program, the national plan recognizes the relationship among program resources, technology, and performance and identifies strategies to address aging systems. State Child Support Director Kate Cooper Richardson, gives us a great example of this interplay in describing her state’s systems upgrades process in the April 2016 Child Support Report (CSR) article, “How Oregon is building a 21st century automation system.” You will also learn more about improvements in minority outreach and how tribes will have access to the Federal Parent Locator Service soon.

The national strategic plan strongly emphasizes the importance of child support income to child and family well-being and focuses on a range of evidence-based and locally tested strategies to collect more child support by strengthening both the ability and willingness to pay. Illinois reports on one county’s new accountability court in the April CSR, and we feature a Parenting Time Opportunities for Children grant success story from San Diego.

While use of the strategic plan by child support agencies is voluntary, many jurisdictions use the national plan to help build their own plans. The national plan may be a particularly effective tool for agencies to highlight family-centered strategies alongside conventional enforcement practices. In this way, the plan recognizes approaches that will help the child support program serve all families more effectively — now and into the future.

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Reflecting on our accomplishments

Toddler Glazing Out WindowThe start of a new year is a good time to look back. We have been through a lot of changes in the past seven years. Let’s start with some of the sobering ones.

The Economy

The economic downturn affected parent earnings and child support program funding alike. During the height of the recession, support collected through income withholding declined by 3 percent, while support collected from unemployment insurance tripled between 2008 and 2010.

At the same time, the child support program experienced significant decreases in program funding and staffing levels. Our peak funding year was 2008 — before the recession — when program expenditures were $5.87 billion in nominal dollars. Since then, funding has declined over 3 percent to $5.69 billion in 2014. Structural labor market changes, increasingly complex families, and reduced program resources have all taken their toll.

Despite the setbacks, our performance has improved slowly but steadily since 2008. In 2014, we collected $28.2 billion, a 6 percent increase over the $26.6 billion collected in 2008, even as the caseload declined by almost 4 percent. Our support order establishment rate was almost 85 percent in 2014, compared to 79 percent in 2008. The percent of cases with a collection was 60 percent in 2014, compared to 57 percent in 2008. Our current collections rate was just over 64 percent in 2014, compared to less than 62 percent in 2008.

Doing business in a changing world

There is no question about it: The child support program has been challenged to find new ways to do business to be able to respond to unprecedented changes in our world. During the decade from 1999 through 2008, the child support community engaged in extensive national and regional discussions about the future of the program, examining such issues as:

  • The impact of organizational and funding decisions on the program;
  • The shift from welfare cost recovery to family distribution policies;
  • Strategies for addressing the accumulation of arrears;
  • The role of fathers in families;
  • The risks of domestic violence;
  • Opportunities for tribal services in Native American communities;
  • Strengths and limitations of automated enforcement tools; and
  • The critical relationship between having a job and paying support.

These state planning and early implementation efforts, along with growing research, laid the groundwork for a more holistic approach to reinforcing noncustodial parents’ financial responsibility to their children.

Family-centered strategies

Over the past seven years, we’ve successfully promoted a comprehensive family-centered framework designed to address barriers to employment, respond to changes in family roles, and increase the consistency of support payments. We are asking ourselves case-specific questions such as, “What are the reasons for nonpayment?” and “What would it take to obtain regular payments?” Practice in the field is shifting from a one-size-fits-all, standardized, and highly automated case management process to a more targeted approach that incorporates evidence-based practices framed as “the right tool for the right family every time.”

By strategically deploying a combination of early interventions, more thorough investigations, enforcement actions, and targeted services, we can do a better job of obtaining consistent child support for families. We have been working to build evidence about what works to increase support payments through our grant programs including the Child Support Noncustodial Parent Employment Demonstration (CSPED), Behavioral Interventions for Child Support Services (BICS), Parenting Time Opportunities for Children (PTOC) pilot projects, Tribal Innovations Grants (TIG), University Partnership grants, and more.

Tribal child support

Over the past few years, we’ve also managed a significant increase in tribal child support programs —more than doubling the number since 2009. We currently fund 62 comprehensive and start-up tribal programs. We also developed and launched our award-winning tribal child support system — the Model Tribal System (MTS) — that is now operational in nine tribes. Although it seems like just yesterday that we launched the system, we have now begun an MTS modernization project to take advantage of the flexibility and modularity offered by today’s technology.

Other technological advances

In 2009, we went live with our Child Support Portal. Passport Denial was the first application, followed by Federal Offset Online, Multistate Financial Institution Data Match Online, Locates Online, FCR Query, DoD Entitlements, Query Interstate Cases for Kids (QUICK), Debt Inquiry, eTermination, Employer Search and Electronic Document Exchange (EDE) accompanied by other federal system services such as Electronic Income Withholding Order (e-IWO) and FAST Levy.

International enforcement

We continue to advance the ball on international and interstate cooperation, with state-by-state enactment of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) 2008, following U.S. signature to The Hague treaty in 2007 and the Senate’s advice and consent in 2010, which you read about in the December 2015 Child Support Report. The treaty will greatly expand the number of countries that will recognize and enforce U.S. child support orders. Under the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014, Public Law 113-183, all states must enact the UIFSA amendments as a condition of state plan approval and federal funding. States must adopt UIFSA 2008 in order for the U.S. to ratify the Hague treaty. All but two states have passed the legislation so far, and we expect to ratify the treaty this summer.

Managing change

In the January 2016 Child Support Report, Retired Oklahoma Child Support Director Gary Dart continues his four-part change management series, Do healthy families initiatives conflict with performance measures? This month, he explains how an approach that aims for the best possible outcomes for each case can also “reward” agencies with performance incentives. All of the articles in the change management series will be available on our Managing Change in the Child Support Program webpage soon.

Also, be sure to read the article “Outreach to federal inmates.” South Carolina tells us how it is reaching out to noncustodial parents in prison. We also offer some tips on helping job seekers struggling with digital job searches.

Needless to say, we’re off to a running start in 2016! Thank you all for your tenacious work over the past seven years — and over the past 40 years since the child support program was enacted. For four decades, we have never stood still. And families deserve no less from us.

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2015 was a busy year…

40th_banner_image_PNGThis year is the child support program’s 40th anniversary. For four decades, the program has fostered a culture of performance, innovation, and change. When I talk with child support professionals across the country, I hear a strong commitment to service, a deep engagement in the daily work of the program, and a willingness to do what it takes to accomplish our mission: collecting child support for children. We are always trying to do better. I think the phrase I hear most often from child support employees is that “The work is never boring!”

And indeed, it is not, for we are in the business of helping families succeed. Change has been our constant theme. Changes in the family structure, job market, and customer demographics since 1975 have required us to steadily adapt our services to the realities of today’s diverse families. From the beginning, we’ve looked to changing technologies for more effective and efficient processing of our caseloads. But behind the technologies, behind the dollars, behind the performance numbers are real families, families struggling to make ends meet, families trying to keep it together, families who are doing their best to raise their children.

National Public Radio ran three stories in November that provide a good backdrop for understanding program change. “How America’s Child Support System Failed to Keep Up with the Times” gives a historical perspective, summarizing child support’s challenges with the social changes occurring in the country in the last 40 years. Two other NPR articles focus on child support debt, explaining the reasons for billions of dollars in accrued arrears and how the Administration’s proposed rule can help minimize future accruals through realistic, right-sized orders. We provide the links to all three in the December 2015 Child Support Report (CSR).

Family mobility across state, tribal, and international borders requires even stronger coordination with other jurisdictions because these movements have expanded our intergovernmental workload. Our December CSR article, “Putting the “Uniform” Back in UIFSA”, chronicles efforts to strengthen interstate and international case processing with a common set of operating guidelines.

As the program evolved from a welfare cost-recovery model to one of the most significant income support programs for families, child support professionals have shifted their service mindset. We now strive for a more individualized approach, deploying a range of tools and strategies to “enforce, engage, and enable”, so that we do not leave any families behind. Our goal is to help all children receive the support and care they need from their parents. And it’s working. Our success at change management is a win/win for children, families, and agencies.

Be sure to read the first article in a new four-part change management series, “Do healthy families initiatives conflict with performance measures?” In this series, debuting in the December CSR, retired Oklahoma director Gary Dart explores the impact of “Healthy Families” principles on the five federal child support program indicators. He explains how an approach that aims for the best possible outcomes for each case can also “reward” agencies with performance incentives. Gary’s article, as well as other change management articles, are available on our Managing Change in the Child Support Program webpage.

While diversifying the program’s service delivery approaches, we are also experiencing change in the physical workplace. Staff turnover, leader successions, telework, consolidated offices, and different office layouts are just a few of the adjustments we are making in your daily work lives. OCSE’s recent moves to smaller, redesigned spaces give us a real appreciation of how environmental changes can affect the way we think and work.

After 40 years of service, you continue to dedicate yourselves to better serving our child support customers one person at a time. As we move into the future, we’ll continue to learn and use the evidence of “what works” to improve the program. Thank you for your commitment and hard work.

Happy 40th Anniversary and Happy New Year!

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Honoring dads on Father’s Day

Father holding his daughter while she sits on a counter

A father and his daughter attend a Family Bonding Activity at the Father’s Support Center in St. Louis, MO.

We’re always looking for ways to increase the effectiveness of our child support program, particularly in three major areas, modernizing technology, increasing procedural fairness, and gathering evidence of programs that work. In honor of Father’s Day, our June Child Support Report focuses on programs and initiatives that help fathers deepen their financial and emotional commitments to their children.

For more than 20 years, OCSE has been involved in efforts to secure consistent support for children through programs to improve parental responsibility and increase child support collections. Ongoing research and evaluation efforts are designed to yield the evidence required for developing and replicating program models.

Some of the earliest examples funded by the Office of Child Support Enforcement include the Parents Fair Share demonstration grants of the 1990s and the Partners for Fragile Families demonstration grants of the early 2000s. Both project designs aimed to improve child support payment compliance by increasing employment, earnings, peer support, and cooperative parenting, and by improving child support services. Noncustodial parents who
participated in the projects said they felt better about their roles as fathers and their ability to support their children financially.

Today, ongoing research projects will add to the evidence base for child support programs.

These studies include

Ongoing research and evaluation efforts are designed to build the evidence required for developing and replicating effective program models. No other program has such extensive contact with fathers as child support does. We know that effective child support is linked with higher father involvement. Fathers who are involved with their children are more likely to pay child support, and fathers who pay child support are more likely to stay involved. We also know that parents — fathers and mothers — are more likely to engage with the child support program if they feel that they are treated fairly and even-handedly, receive timely information, and experience the child support program as genuinely helpful and concerned about their well-being.

The most effective child support programs combine modern technology with parental engagement and evidence-based strategies to increase collections and address barriers to
nonpayment.

Read more about effective child support practices in our June Child Support Report.

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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.

A second analysis says today’s 18- to 29-year-olds value parenthood far more than marriage; 52 percent say being a good parent is “one of the most important things” in life. Just 30 percent say the same about having a successful marriage.

What would a typical modern mother say about that?—there isn’t one, according to a third publication. Today’s mothers of newborns are more likely than their counterparts two decades earlier to be ages 35 and older, to have some college education, to be unmarried or to be nonwhite—but none of these moms is “typical.” Instead, each demographic trend represents a different group of mothers. Mothers’ circumstances have become more diverse. (See page 9 in the May 2012 Child Support Report for more news bytes about mothers.)

Generational change is nothing new. “Generations, like people, have personalities. Their collective identities typically begin to reveal themselves when their oldest members move into their teens and twenties and begin to act upon their values, attitudes and worldviews,” says a recent Pew report on the Millennial generation.  A 2010 survey explains that “the young are more inclined than their elders to view cohabitation without marriage and other new family forms—such as same-sex marriage and interracial marriage—in a positive light.”

The Millennial generation is changing the child support program, too, as child support agencies have begun to adapt services to fit their family circumstances. According to a report from Child Trends, 41 percent of all American children were born to unmarried mothers in 2009. But the majority (53 percent) of children with mothers under 30 were born outside of marriage.

Part of adapting our services is being able to refer parents to other agencies for services they need. Take a look at the article on page 8, which demonstrates how free legal aid services in D.C. are helping moms to achieve a better life for themselves and their children.

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May is also National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. More and more, we are partnering with other agencies and organizations to help us adapt to changing families. One organization is the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, which educates teens about pregnancy prevention. Child support agencies across the country, too, are educating youth about consequences of becoming pregnant at a young age. (Read about some of these agencies on page 3 in the May Child Support Report.)

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Despite generational changes, mothers are central to a child’s upbringing, and the child support program is committed to helping them raise their children and make ends meet.  From one mom to another, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day!

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‘Family-Centered Services’ Means Good Customer Service

Blowing bubblesPart of the meaning of “family-centered services” is providing good customer service. It means developing the habit of seeing yourself and your office through the eyes of the parents who interact with you, and reorganizing your work to become more responsive. Customer service is right in the center of the bubble chart—part of our core business.

What do you want from the child support program as a custodial mom, as a custodial dad, as a grandmother? First of all, you want results. You want the other parent to pay. You don’t want to waste your time. You don’t want to sit in a waiting room or in a phone queue. You don’t want to fill out paperwork over and over again. You want to get your questions answered. You want a clear understanding of what will happen to you in the process. You want to feel safe. You might want to apply for other programs, such as SNAP and SSI, if only someone would ask you. You don’t want to be judged. You want your worker to know what you are up against.

And if you are a noncustodial dad or mom? You want the worker to understand the complexity and sorrow of your life. You want to be treated as a parent, not a wallet. You want to be respected and understood. You want the system to work with you, not against you. You don’t want to be judged. You don’t want to be humiliated. You want a chance to make things right. You need a job. You want to see your kids. You want for your children what you might never have had.

Every one of us has had good and bad customer experiences. And we can identify precisely what went right or wrong in those experiences. Usually, when things go right, we feel that we matter, we feel heard, we are engaged in the process, and we can maintain some control over the outcome—whether we are ordering online, fixing a problem with a bill, or sitting in a hospital waiting room.

The child support program has a deep culture of innovation. Innovation starts with every worker and every manager saying out loud:

Do you know what I saw? What I heard? What I read?

What if we …?

Why do we…?

We ought to try….

As child support offices around the country know, technology is part of the answer to providing good quality customer service, especially in a time of budget cutbacks. Technology can help us reach a new generation of parents, many of whom get their information through the internet. We can expand customer-friendly, interactive websites and voice response systems. We can use cell phone texts and email alerts to parents. We can post short videos with real customers to speak for our program and develop apps that make our internet services easy to use. We can encourage parents to apply for services online and link parents to such resources as benefit calculators and program navigators.

But technology is not the whole answer. When states were implementing statewide computer systems in the 1990s, the prevailing idea was that we would become efficient collection agencies—highly automated, impersonal, with minimal caseworker intervention. Now we know that that approach is not enough. We need to build in the missing ingredient in our program—parental engagement. The money is important. But what we know now is that child support is about more than just money; it’s about families.

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