Panel Paper: Taking the First Step: Using Behavioral Economics to Help Incarcerated Parents Apply for Child Support Order Modifications

Friday, November 7, 2014 : 8:30 AM
Santa Ana (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Mary Farrell1, Caitlin Anzelone2, Dan Cullinan2 and Jessica Wille1, (1)MEF Associates, (2)MDRC
This presentation will provide findings from a pilot behavioral intervention designed to increase the number of incarcerated noncustodial parents (NCPs) in Texas who apply for modifications of their child support orders. Incarcerated NCPs have a limited ability to pay their child support orders each month, due to their incarceration, which can lead to the accumulation of significant child support debt. The Texas Office of the Attorney General’s Child Support Division operates a program that contacts incarcerated NCPs via mail, informs them of the option to apply for order modifications, and provides instructions on how to begin the process. In the past, less than one-third of contacted NCPs responded to the outreach and applied for a modification, less than desired given the benefits to the incarcerated NCPs to modify their orders.

The BIAS project diagnosed bottlenecks in the application process, hypothesized behavioral reasons for the bottlenecks, and designed behaviorally-informed changes to the mailing sent to incarcerated NCPs. It revised the letter to make it more readable, printed it on blue paper so that it would stand out, pre-populated a section of the application, and sent a postcard prior to the letter being sent and another following the letter to those who had not responded. Based on what was learned in Texas, another pilot is being developed with Washington State to target incarcerated NCPs residing in the state. This presentation will present findings from the Texas evaluation and describe the Washington state pilot and early implementation experiences.