Tag Archives: Research

Talking with the courts

Statue of justice in foreground and unidentified books in backgroundOver the past 18 months, I have had a number of conversations with national and state judicial groups, as well as individual judges, magistrates, and court administrators. These conversations across the country have led me to two clear conclusions: The courts are having many of the same conversations that we are in the child support community and there is judicial support for implementing family-centered child support processes. This summer, I had the honor of addressing the state court chief justices and court administrators about our family-centered framework at their annual conference, which focused on domestic relations issues. While there, I learned that the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ), the association representing the chief justices, has adopted access to justice and civil justice reform as key priorities for the coming years.

Since then, the National Center on State Courts (NCSC) has written a groundbreaking report on civil justice reforms strongly endorsed by CCJ in a July 27, 2016 resolution. NCSC publically released Call to Action: Achieving Civil Justice for All on August 3. Two short, informative podcasts describing the report also are also available on the same webpage.

I urge each of you whose work intersects with the judiciary to review the recommendations contained in the report and in Appendix I, “Problems and Recommendations for High-Volume Dockets.”

Here are some sobering facts outlined in the report. In three-fourths of civil cases, at least one party is self-represented, “creating an asymmetry in legal expertise,” 45 percent are uncontested, and 20 percent of civil cases end up in default judgments. Inadequate service of process contributes to the high default rate: “traditional procedures for serving notice in civil lawsuits are functionally obsolete, especially in suits against individuals. Typical methods of serving process are riddled with inaccuracies and inadequacies.” Overcrowded and confusing courtroom environments also contribute to uncontested and default judgments. “One size fits all” civil procedure and court rules are not working for litigants and many defendants cannot afford to litigate. The practice of calendaring dockets, requiring parties in several cases to come to court and wait for their cases to be called results in many people missing work, and incurring child care and transportation costs.

The report calls for change:

Restoring public confidence means rethinking how we work in fundamental ways. We need to put citizens back at the center of our system. We must ensure they are heard, respected, and capable of getting a just result, not just in theory, but in everyday practice. We have to harmonize the fairness of process with the modern, flexible experience people expect. These recommendations empower courts to embrace new procedures and technologies, to give each matter the resources it needs — no more, no less — and to prudently shepherd the cases we face now. … The Recommendations are crafted to work across local legal cultures and overcome the significant financial and operational roadblocks to change. With concerted action, we can realize the promise of justice for all. Our citizens deserve it. Our democracy depends on it.

The report places a renewed focus on high-volume calendars, emphasizing the requirement for all judgments to comply with basic procedural requirements for notice, timeliness, and sufficient documentation. It states that resolution of uncontested cases must meet the same standards for due process and proof as contested cases. It calls for simplified court rules and processes that screen out unnecessary technical complexities.

The report lays out a set of specific recommendations that call on state courts to:

  • Conduct a thorough examination of their civil case business practices that adapt to case needs to reduce delay, cost and complexity and increase fairness;
  • Implement  “right-sized” case management and case “pathways” based on a sufficient assessment of individual case characteristics and needs; and
  • Ensure that litigants have access to accurate and understandable information in plain language and real-time help for litigants to navigate the process.

Sometimes I hear child support administrators express trepidation about reaching out to state court leadership. But child support agencies are not alone in grappling with high-volume caseloads, severely reduced resources, the dramatic increase in pro se litigants, the critical need for technology and research-informed case management tools, the Constitutional imperative to provide equal access to justice and procedural fairness for all, and a strong commitment to positive child and family outcomes. I say that there has never been a better time to begin a dialogue with our judicial partners at every level of state court administration. Take the initiative.

For information on helping justice involved individuals, read the September Child Support Report.

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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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Child support performance has never been stronger

Blue line graph on a yellow backgroundThe numbers are in, and I am very pleased to report to you that 2015 represents a new high water mark in child support program performance.  Congratulations to all of you for your resilience and hard work!  We have come through the economic downturn stronger than ever.

The child support program continues to be highly effective for millions of children and their families, reducing child poverty and promoting family self-sufficiency. In 2015, we provided child support services for 16 million children, more than 1 in 5 children nationwide, along with 22 million parents and caregivers. According to 2013 Census Bureau data, child support was 41 percent of the income of poor families that receive it, up from 29 percent in 1997.

Paternity, support order establishment, current collection, and arrears collection rates have never been higher, while cost-effectiveness remains high at $5.26 collected for every $1.00 spent.

And the really exciting news is that as states have begun to implement family-centered strategies on a broader scale, the current collection rate — which measures support order compliance and regular payments — is starting to rise. The last time we saw the current collection rate move this much was in the early 2000s. We also see an uptick in the arrears collection rate.

Over the past decade, we have made progress on every measure. Here are our FY 2015 national results:

  • We collected almost $29 billion in IV-D cases receiving child support services, including over $50 million in tribal child support collections, reflecting the growth of the tribal child support program. In 2006, we collected $24 billion.
  • We collected an additional $4 billion in payments made through income withholding orders for child support cases that did not receive child support services.
  • The IV-D paternity establishment percentage was 100 percent and the statewide Paternity Establishment Percentage was 95 percent, maintaining the high numbers from 2006.
  • 86 percent of cases had a child support order. In 2006, the support order rate was 77 percent.
  • We collected 65 percent of current support. In 2006, it was 60 percent.
  • We collected 64 percent in arrears cases. In 2006, it was 61 percent.
  • Our cost effectiveness rate of $5.26 compares to $4.58 in 2006.
  • Our collections increased by nearly 20 percent since 2006, while our expenditures increased by 3 percent.

The data say we are headed in the right direction. I am proud of your commitment to strengthen and improve our program.  Because of you, more families have what they need to make ends meet and more children have what they need most — parents who put them first.

Learn about more our improving performance measures in the July 2016 edition of the Child Support Report.

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How the President’s FY 2017 Budget Strengthens Child Support

Graphic of White House with the words "Administration's FY2017 budget " on it.I am pleased to describe the child support-related legislative proposals included in the Administration’s FY 2017 Budget. We are renewing a number of prior proposals for efforts to ensure that children benefit when support is paid, promote access and visitation, improve program efficiency, and for dedicated research funding. We’re adding new proposals to further strengthen enforcement. And, this year, we’re proposing a Child Support Technology Fund to promote the replacement of aging child support systems.

Below are the six areas of legislative proposals related to child support. These summaries offer a quick read on the proposals; for more details, see our FY 2017 Budget fact sheet. It is a supplement at the end of the February-March 2015 Child Support Report (CSR).

Child Support Technology Fund — to promote the replacement of aging child support systems to increase system security, efficiency, and integrity

Child Support Research Fund — to spark research, build the child support evidence base, and tailor the appropriate child support enforcement tools for each family

Strengthening Establishment and Enforcement — to increase collections and program efficiency

Child Support and Fatherhood Initiative — to encourage noncustodial parents to support their children and play an active role in their lives; to build on the family distribution reforms included in the 1996 and 2006 statutes; to encourage states to pass through child support collections to TANF families so that when parents pay child support, their children benefit; to support safe increased access and visitation services and integrating these services into the core child support program to improve collections and parent-child relationships and outcomes for children

Medicaid and Child Support Proposals — to allow states to eliminate Medicaid’s requirement to assign the right to cash medical child support to the state as a condition of eligibility to reduce barriers to health care access and increase resources for the poorest families

NDNH Access Proposals — to allow certain additional programs and agencies authority to access NDNH data for program integrity, implementation, and research purposes

As we focus on the budget, in the February-March CSR, Washington and Nebraska child support offices share their insights on another important planning tool — the strategic plan. Washington shares its story on the systematic steps staff members took to develop their plan, including using a visual management tool to display progress. Nebraska staff and leaders used a roadmap analogy to describe their process in developing their strategic operations plan. We’ll continue the discussion on strategic planning in next month’s CSR.

In the meantime, we would like to hear your thoughts on the FY 2017 Budget.

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We Depend on Evidence-Based Research

Commissioner's researchData and research are engines that drive the national child support program. Data help us know whether we are on track to meet our performance goals. They help us identify the best case strategies to pursue. Research and data help us gain public support for our program and develop policies and initiatives that can effectively respond to trends in our caseload.

For example, the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Current Population Survey” shows us that the child support program’s caseload reflects societal trends in poverty, nonmarital childbearing, divorce, and families who receive public assistance. The “Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing” national survey of 5,000 newborns in hospitals, conducted by a team of researchers at Columbia and Princeton Universities, helps us understand the causes and consequences of nonmarital childbearing. This research helps us to better understand the living situations of our customers.

Research helped us understand why noncustodial parents’ arrears accumulate—and as a result of that research, child support professionals have developed projects to better manage these arrears. Research also taught us that we can increase support payments if we can help unwed parents negotiate access and visitation arrangements. And child support professionals have developed mediation projects that help parents put together parenting plans. Our research about undistributed collections has led to ways to reduce those amounts.

In the last 15 years, research has helped to spur the program’s shift to a broader set of family-centered strategies. We now know that the more involved the dad is emotionally, the more likely he will pay child support. We know that many fathers need services to help them understand the importance of their role as a dad. And we have learned that the child support program is uniquely positioned to reach out to low-income men through services that lead to employment and through access and visitation services.

At OCSE, we are thinking hard about ways to increase our data analysis and research opportunities to identify evidence-based practices that we should incorporate into our program. At the federal level, OCSE is developing a data warehouse to help us analyse our FPLS and administrative data. We are partnering with our Department’s research and evaluation offices, the Office of Family Assistance (which administers the TANF program), and the U.S. Department of Labor to obtain research evidence about certain workforce program models. And, through a small number of grants, we have been encouraging state child support agencies to develop partnerships with their state universities to use research to learn about more effective ways of doing business.

I look forward to further research as OCSE strengthens its partnerships—and creates new ones—with agencies at every level of government. We have the latest results about our partnership that drives the insurance match program (see page 1 in the February Child Support Report) and the passport denial program’s partnership with employers (see page 6 in the CSR).

I also look forward to seeing research evidence and other data from your states, counties, and tribal agencies. Despite tight budgets, you continue to innovate and test problem-solving solutions, for example, interactive websites to better communicate with customers (see page 4 in the CSR)—perhaps one of the most important opportunities to connect with our diverse customer caseload.

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