The Administration for Children and Families has two key priorities during this administration: (1) to prevent the need for children to be placed into foster care, and (2) to build parents’ and families’ capacity to sustain themselves economically. I encourage you to consider how a strong collaboration between the child support and child welfare agencies could advance these federal priorities as well as the agencies’ missions, resulting in positive outcomes for families.
Background and data
Under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, the state child welfare agency is required, where appropriate, to refer cases to child support and to secure an assignment of support rights to the state. In those cases, both parents may be considered noncustodial parents during the child’s time in foster care, and the child support agency may establish or enforce support against both parents.
From foster care referrals and assignment of support rights, child support collections data from 2018 shows that of the $28.6 billion collected, $68.9 million was collected on foster care cases.
Many child support agencies have ongoing efforts to raise awareness among parents and the general public of how the child support program can benefit families. Similarly, child welfare staff may not know the positive impact of child support services. Collaboration can help child welfare staff understand how child support actions may be helpful to the parent-child relationship, when referrals are appropriately made. Collaboration can also improve both agencies’ understanding of how efforts to prevent removals and foster care placement can be strengthened, including the value of accessing the Federal Parent Locator Service to identify noncustodial parents or other relatives as placement options.
A primary way that child support and child welfare collaboration could improve outcomes is by determining appropriate referrals. Referrals can be for the noncustodial parent, the custodial parent, both, or neither. For example, from a child welfare perspective, a referral may be appropriate for the benefit of establishing a legal father, getting support payments to a custodial parent to help meet reunification plans, finding an engaged noncustodial parent as a placement option, or preventing a child’s removal from poor living conditions by getting support payments into a low-income, custodial parent household. The determination to refer would ideally be case-specific.
Collaboration with child welfare colleagues can begin with cross-program training. Consider working together to develop a framework for pre-referral case assessment. Hold regular meetings and develop a protocol for as-needed, case-specific communication.
Please share your collaboration best practices that have resulted in solid referrals and appropriate child support actions. Replicating proven approaches is efficient and cost-effective. We are also available to provide technical assistance or facilitate partnerships. A closer collaboration between the agencies is a low-cost, high-reward enhancement to our services.