Interim Report Released on Early Findings from Demonstration Designed to Identify Effective Policies to Help Noncustodial Parents Support Their Children

September 1, 2015

CONTACT: Daniel R. Meyer (drmeyer1@wisc.edu) or Jennifer L. Noyes (jennifer.noyes@wisc.edu)

MADISON—Early findings from the first two years of an ambitious national five-year demonstration designed to identify effective policies to help noncustodial parents support their children are reflected in an interim report issued today by the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) at the University of Wisconsin, along with its partner, Mathematica Policy Research. The project, known as the Child Support Noncustodial Parent Employment Demonstration (CSPED), was launched by the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) within the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in fall 2012.

CSPED's goal is to increase reliable payment of child support by noncustodial parents who are willing but unable to pay. While the child support system is designed to address the potential negative consequences for children living apart from one of their parents by ensuring that noncustodial parents contribute financially to their upbringing, many noncustodial parents, including a disproportionate share whose children live in poverty, have limited earnings and ability to pay. Moreover, child support orders often constitute a high proportion of their income. CSPED is testing whether a child support system that enables, as well as enforces, noncustodial parents' contributions to the support of their children can be effective.

Evaluation Principal Investigator and UW Professor of Social Work Daniel R. Meyer notes, "This is a very important opportunity for evidence-based policymaking. If the final evaluation of this innovative program shows positive results, it has the potential to transform the way child support services are provided in this country. Many feel the current system is not working very well; the evaluation results should tell us whether an alternative would work better."

The interim report issued today reflects demonstration activities that commenced in fall 2012, when the eight child support agencies competitively awarded grants by OCSE to participate in CSPED began a one-year planning period, as well as activities during the initial year of program enrollment. During the planning period, each of the eight grantees formed required partnerships, developed service-delivery plans, and refined eligibility criteria. Ultimately, grantees designated a total of 18 implementation sites, ranging from one to five counties per grantee. Beginning in the last quarter of 2013, grantees began enrolling participants in the demonstration. Half of the enrollees will be randomly assigned to receive CSPED services, including enhanced child support services, employment assistance, parenting education delivered in a peer-supported format and case management. Half will be assigned to a control group and will not receive extra services. Each grantee aims to recruit 1,500 eligible noncustodial parents.

Throughout the two-year time period reflected in the report, grantees and their partners experienced a steep learning curve. In particular, the CSPED grantees grappled with several challenges including reorienting child support staff and systems toward helping low-income noncustodial parents obtain employment; recruiting noncustodial parents to enroll in CSPED; keeping participants engaged in services; addressing participants' multiple barriers to employment such as criminal records, lack of work history, and low levels of education; establishing partnerships and meshing different organizational cultures; and helping participants with parenting time issues.

Although the report issued today covers an early period of CSPED operations and reflects grantees initial efforts to implement the demonstration and overcome challenges, early lessons can be drawn from observations shared by staff and a synthesis of implementation data collected to date. These early lessons include the importance of using child support workers who support CSPED's goals to identify and recruit participants; developing services that take into account the substantial barriers to employment faced by the target population; designing services to promote sustained participant engagement; and investing in strong partnerships and communication systems.

The demonstration will continue operating through September 2017, or three years beyond the time period reflected in the report. A final implementation report will examine the full implementation period and provide a more comprehensive assessment of the types and dosage of services participants received. The report will focus on the infrastructure and supports that facilitated implementation, program features that appear to promote higher levels of participant engagement, promising strategies for helping participants obtain employment and make regular child support payments, and strategies for overcoming common implementation hurdles. A final report will examine CSPED's impacts on participants' outcomes and include a benefit-cost analysis.

In addition to IRP's Dr. Meyer, Robert G. Wood, Senior Fellow, Mathematica Policy Research, also serves as Principal Investigator for the demonstration. The CSPED Evaluation Director is Jennifer L. Noyes, IRP Associate Director and Researcher. Dr. Noyes, along with Diane Paulsell, Associate Director of Human Services Research, Mathematica Policy Research, led the team that completed the interim implementation report.

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