By Scott Lekan, Commissioner, Office of Child Support Enforcement
Paying child support is difficult, if not impossible, without a job. However, providing employment services is beyond the scope of federally funded child support enforcement activities. States explored ways to connect noncustodial parents to jobs, which laid the groundwork for the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement’s five-year National Child Support Noncustodial Parent Employment Demonstration (CSPED). In 2012, the Office of Child Support Enforcement competitively awarded eight grants to state child support agencies to test the effectiveness of child support-led employment programs for noncustodial parents who were unemployed or underemployed and unable to meet their support obligations. The grant ended in September 2017, but states continued to deliver services in 2018 by using unspent funding during a no-cost extension year. The project included intensive case management, parenting peer support, and other services to help noncustodial parents become self-sufficient to pay court ordered child support payments. Here is the experience of one participating parent.
Stanislaus County, California’s, project partner, the Center for Human Services, facilitated their CSPED parenting program called On My Shoulders. In 2013, Jeremy Shuman enrolled in the program and began attending sessions. When he found employment, his work schedule made it difficult for him to attend the parenting sessions regularly. The instructor encouraged Jeremy to attend whenever he could and kept in touch with him.
When he completed his final parenting session in 2017, the instructor asked Jeremy if he would be interested in becoming a facilitator. Jeremy felt honored to be entrusted with the group sessions. The opportunity to give back to a program that had done so much for him was “more than he could have hoped for.” Jeremy eventually became the full-time On My Shoulders facilitator. This is what he had to say about his experience in the CSPED program.
“Believing in people, showing them compassion, and offering them a chance to better their lives has an impact on not just their lives, but on the lives of everyone they touch. One act of kindness has exponential benefits. The program, On My Shoulders, and other programs like these not only make a difference for those fortunate enough to be participants, but also have an impact on everyone they meet.”
With results like this, OCSE is intent on continuing to provide technical assistance for states to test or implement child support-led employment services. One aspect is identifying the appropriate source of funding. One year ago, in IM-18-02, I reinforced the importance of work promotion and encouraged states to implement and strengthen employment programs for noncustodial parents. That memo focused on using IV-D incentive funds to pay for these programs, which is one of several funding mechanisms states are currently using or may consider for these activities. In an upcoming information memo, our office will provide similar guidance about the option to fund employment services through a waiver project. Under Section 1115 of the Social Security Act, OCSE has the authority to waive specific program requirements or funding restrictions to conduct activities that improve the financial well-being of children or the operation of the child support program. These projects can also be public-private partnerships. Several states are already operating employment projects with Section 1115 authority, including three of the prior CSPED grantees: Colorado, Ohio, and Wisconsin. And four others are testing a program to connect low-income noncustodial parents to career paths, wage growth, and increased capacity to financially support their children.
State child support agencies may also look into partnering with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs within their state to fund noncustodial parent employment programs. With TANF-ACF-IM-2018-01, the Office of Family Assistance (OFA) encourages the use of TANF funds to promote employment programs for noncustodial parents. TANF funds must be used on activities that meet one of the four purposes of the TANF program, including promoting job preparation and work for needy parents as well as encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.
Here within ACF, we are collaborating with the OFA to promote and expand the small number of states that have formed interagency partnerships for establishing TANF-funded child support-led job services. Seven states are using this approach and their models range from court-ordered participation in employment programs to voluntary enrollment and early intervention. Their funding arrangements have a similar range, from agency memorandums of understanding to annual legislative appropriation.
Our agency also knows the important role fathers play and made parenting support in a peer group setting a key component of the CSPED project. In 2018, ACF issued a joint information memorandum with OFA, the Office of Child Care, and the Office of Head Start to emphasize the importance of meaningful father engagement.
The goal of the child support program is to maximize child support collections in an effort to secure the financial well-being of the child. We realize that connecting parents with jobs is the key to regular support payments. OCSE’s role is to actively promote and assist state and tribal efforts to get as many parents as possible back to work.