Panel Paper: Dates and Deadlines: Behavioral Strategies to Increase Engagement in Child Support

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Tyler - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Yana Kusayeva, MDRC

As part of the Behavioral Interventions in Child Support Service (BICS) study in Georgia, the BICS team worked with the Georgia Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) to design and test a new form of outreach intended to get more noncustodial parents to participate in the child support order establishment process voluntarily. The intervention aimed to people who had been named as parents to come into the office and meet with staff members to discuss the child support process and their obligations. Using insights from behavioral science, the BICS team redesigned mailed materials and changed the nature of the initial meeting between noncustodial parents and child support staff members in an attempt to simplify the process and encourage parents to act.

The researchers randomly assigned people in three counties to receive either the existing or redesigned outreach materials during an 11-month period. The test measured the percentage of people who visited the office to accept service, as well as longer-term outcomes related to payment that may have seen effects if the redesigned meetings improved interactions between parents and staff members.

The new outreach materials increased the number of people who came to the office to accept service voluntarily by 8.2 percentage points, from 15.1 percent of the control group to 23.3 percent of the intervention group. This difference is statistically significant and represents a 54 percent increase, and coming into the office was the primary outcome of interest to the state of Georgia. The intervention did not affect the overall service rate, suggesting that some of the people who agreed to accept service in the office would have been served by more adversarial means. From a resource-management perspective, using strategies informed by behavioral science to reach customers who are the easiest to serve allows the system to devote more resources to those who are harder to locate and serve. After six months, the interven­tion did not appear to have any statistically significant effects on other, secondary outcomes of interest, including the number of fathers whose paternity was estab­lished, the number of parents for whom child support orders were set, the amounts they were ordered to pay, or their payment behavior. Front-line staff members reported that many parents reacted positively to the study materials, finding them novel, clear, and likable. The approach tested in this study was customer-friendly and focused on strategies meant to make a person willing or likely to take practical action, and the results of this study suggest that these strategies can be used by child support programs to effectively engage parents in a less adversarial way.

Full Paper: