Panel: The Behavioral Interventions for Child Support Services Project: RCT Findings and Perspectives from the Field
(Family and Child Policy)

Thursday, November 8, 2018: 1:45 PM-3:15 PM
Tyler - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  Dan Bloom, MDRC
Discussants:  Crystal Hall, University of Washington and Gretchen Lehman, Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement

Behavioral science sheds light on human decision-making and behavior to better understand why people make the choices that they do. Designers of social services often expect that clients will understand their many choices and obligations, respond appropriately to notices, recognize the benefits of supportive services, and diligently follow through. When these expectations are not met, the response is often to impose enforcement mechanisms assuming that all clients are consciously choosing not to cooperate. Too often, designers do not take into account the obstacles people must overcome in order to access programs and services.  Designers also must navigate complex policy and regulatory requirements, finding ways to develop programs that follow applicable rules while still decreasing obstacles that may turn people away. Insights from behavioral science demonstrate that small hassles, in fact, create significant barriers that can prevent those in need of services from receiving them. People have limits on attention, are overly optimistic, and are subject to miscalculations in their reasoning. Findings about these “behavioral bottlenecks” can be used to improve the way programs are designed and implemented.

The Behavioral Interventions for Child Support Services (BICS) demonstration project is sponsored by the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) of the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The project aims to apply behavioral insights to child support contexts, to develop promising behavioral interventions, and to build a culture of regular, rapid-cycle evaluation and critical inquiry within the child support community.

This panel will present findings from two BICS tests, both of which used randomized controlled trials. In addition, the panel will include a presentation from a child support program manager in one of the BICS sites who will discuss the role of BICS and behavioral science principles more generally in broader programmatic and policy decision-making. Discussants from academia and the federal government will provide their perspectives on the study’s findings and the way in which tests such as BICS fit into broader policy and research agendas.

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