Panel Paper: Experimental Tests of Efforts to Improve Child Support Collections in Washington State

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 2:25 PM
DuPont Ballroom G (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Robert Plotnick1, Asaph Glosser2, Shannon Harper3, M. Kathleen Moore1 and Emmi Obara2, (1)University of Washington, (2)MEF Associates, (3)West Coast Poverty Center
In a time of rising caseloads, declining collections, and uncertain program funding, there is a premium on efficient use of staff time in pursuing child support collections. In spite of the up-front costs associated with implementing new approaches, IV-D agencies have incentives to find innovative ways to do their work. However, given limited resources, agencies need to understand whether the interventions in which they plan to invest are effective. 

This paper will discuss two experiments testing interventions designed to increase child support collections in Washington State. Under a University Partnership grant awarded by the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, a team of academic and applied researchers are working with child support agency officials to develop experimental research designs, monitor implementation, measure impacts, and disseminate results to child support stakeholders.

The two interventions being tested reflect the general need for child support agencies to increase collections and maximize their performance with respect to federal performance standards and on behalf of custodial parents and their children. They vary in the amount of resources and staff time involved as well as in the point in the “life cycle” of a case at which the interventions are aimed.

The first is the creation of a special unit of caseworkers dedicated to pursuing collections in arrears-only cases with exclusively state-owed debt. Collections from these arrears-only cases go directly to the State. According to the State’s estimates, this unit is expected to be cost effective in less than one year. The proposed paper will provide findings from the implementation study of the staffing, training, and initial months of the special unit’s work, as well as quantitative results on the impacts of the team’s first six to eight months.

The second intervention is testing the effect of initiating clear and regular communication with noncustodial parents. Currently, noncustodial parents receive written notification of their child support obligations when the order is established, but in most cases, they do not receive a routine reminder to pay each month. The intervention will test whether sending regular billing statements to noncustodial parents not subject to wage withholding increases the regularity and amount of payment. Unlike the special arrears-only unit that relies on intensive case work and a substantial investment on the State’s part, the generation and distribution of the monthly statements is largely automated and relatively low cost.

In addition to providing details about these two interventions and initial results from the experiments, the university partnership model is itself of interest. The paper will also discuss the structure of the grant; some early lessons learned from the agency-researcher partnership about using research to inform and improve policy and administrative practice; and the broader benefits of these types of smaller scale experiments to program administrators, policy makers, and the research community.