Access and Visitation Mandatory Grant Program

A Look Inside OCSE - Story Series

Publication Date: March 28, 2019

Each year, OCSE provides $10 million in mandatory grant funding to states and territories to operate the Access and Visitation (AV) program. Legally, it’s designed to fund services to help noncustodial parents spend more time with their children. In most states and territories, it’s administered by the child support agency. Putting oversight of the AV program within the child support agency increases the likelihood that AV services reach parents in the child support program. We’re working with multiple states to expand availability for these parents.

States can provide AV services directly or through contracts with courts, tribes, counties, and organizations such as nonprofits. Parent education, including legal education, accounted for 44% of all AV services in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017. Mediation, at 22%, was second. Other services include parenting plan development and visitation enforcement. All states must have safeguards in place to ensure AV services do not increase the risk of family violence for program participants.

Importance of access and visitation

Researchers have found that financial and emotional supports are interrelated. U.S. Census data consistently show that custodial parents with custody or parenting time arrangements are more likely to receive child support. Congress recognized the public policy value of parental access and visitation in the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014. The law encouraged states to use AV funds to support the establishment of parenting time arrangements for parents in the child support program.

Who receives services

In FY 2017, more than 93,000 parents and guardians participated in AV program services, thereby affecting over 100,000 children. While the AV program aims to provide services that support noncustodial parents’ time with their children, both parents often participated in many of the allowable services. Following is a breakdown of AV program participants in FY 2017:

  • 41% noncustodial fathers
  • 36% custodial mothers
  • 11% noncustodial mothers
  • 7% custodial fathers
  • 5% legal guardians and grandparents

The AV program is a key resource for never married parents who generally don’t have a readily accessible formal process for establishing access and visitation rights. This group constituted a majority (57%) of parents using AV program services in FY 2017. While divorcing parents may establish shared parenting time agreements through the family court system, unmarried parents often need to navigate multiple, complex legal proceedings to resolve child support and parenting time issues. AV program services can help bridge this gap.

The AV funding formula

Unlike some other grant programs, AV grants are not competitively awarded. Congress instructed us to distribute funds to each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. We use a formula that includes U.S. Census data on children living with one biological parent and the total number of children in each of the eligible jurisdictions. The program has a minimum grant award of $100,000.

For more information, see the Access and Visitation Grant Program Update for FY 2017 or contact Michael Hayes at michael.hayes@acf.hhs.gov.

About the Authors

John Langrock and Michael Hayes are members of the Division of Program Innovation at the Office of Child Support Enforcement. This story was originally published in the March 2019 Child Support Report.

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