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Risk and Fraud

What’s next for Child Support Enforcement

· 6 minute read

· 6 minute read

Thanks to the Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program, state child support agencies have improved the lives of millions of kids.  That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t help even more children.

As child support professionals know, CSE is a joint federal, state, and local initiative whose mission is to boost the collection of support payments from non-custodial parents (NCPs). Though they can take pride in a history of success, the child support agencies that manage CSE in each state face significant challenges. These typically include tight budgets, out-of-date processes and technology systems, ever-increasing caseloads, and too few resources to address them.

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The beginnings of CSE

How CSE has evolved

Potential future developments

To continue CSE’s history of success into the future, the agencies overseeing state CSE programs will need to incorporate technological innovations into their workflows. As the challenges they face increase, agencies will need digital tools that can help them improve outcomes for the families they serve.

The beginnings of CSE

Understanding the program’s original intent and evolution helps to better understand the challenges that CSE needs to meet. CSE was launched in 1975 as part of Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. Under CSE, a single agency in each state receives the federal funding needed to administer the program and provide Title IV-D child support services. State agencies operate under the national child support program overseen by the Office of Child Support Services (OCSS) within the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The federal government reimburses states for 66% of their programs’ operating expenses. It also makes grants to states to support services for children and families under the program. In addition, states collect child support payments on behalf of families receiving cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. One key reason for CSE’s importance: 24% of families eligible for child support have incomes below the federal poverty line.

The federal child support program has been successful in helping struggling families across the country provide more stability for their children. In fiscal year 2022, the program served 12.8 million children—nearly one in five U.S. kids. It collected $30.5 billion in child support payments, 96% of which went to custodial families. (The remainder was used to reimburse public assistance programs).

In short, CSE has been a major step forward in providing child support services to those in need. But in a sense, the program also has become a victim of its own success.

How CSE has evolved

As CSE has grown, so has the number of families requiring its help. Expanding caseloads have stressed the outdated processes and limited resources of state agencies, making it harder for agencies to fulfill their mission—namely, locating non-custodial parents (NCPs).A recent Thomson Reuters checklist examines these difficulties.

One of the biggest challenges the child support agencies face is that many NCPs reside far from their children. At the same time, enforcement practices vary from state to state. If the two parents live in different states, enforcing support payments can get complicated. Each state determines which court within a state has jurisdiction to consider the issue of child support. While most states are open to cooperating with the custodial parent’s home state, the state in which the NCP resides can relitigate that obligation and modify how much the NCP needs to pay.

In general, the bigger issue for home-state child support agencies is ready access to interstate databases to help locate NCPs. In December 2016, the OCSS published a rule intended to modernize CSE operations by expanding the use of technologies and removing out-of-date guidelines that had been restricting introductions of other innovations into the program. As a result, agency professionals have been exploring the use of digital technology tools that can help them better incorporate into their work best practices for accuracy and speed. Digital technology also can strengthen collaboration between state child support agencies and law enforcement, which can be critical to finding NCPs.

A recently launched example of such a tool is Alert Center, which has been incorporated into Thomson Reuters’ CLEAR investigation software. Alert Center provides investigators with automated alerts regarding open child support cases. These alerts can include updates from public records on the address, phone number, professional license, and incarceration status of the NCP under investigation.

Potential future developments

The CSE program has come a long way in its nearly 50 years. There are likely to be more changes in the coming years to increase the effectiveness of this crucial program further. One current issue is a new Internal Revenue Service rule that, beginning this October, state child support agencies can no longer use outside contractors in enforcement efforts, since these contractors can access federal taxpayer information. (Legislation introduced in April, would allow agencies to continue using contractors to support collection efforts.)   New technological innovations will also arise in their collection work. One possibility being discussed is the use of blockchain (a digitally managed transaction protocol) for tracking support payments.

Whatever changes and challenges arise, one thing that won’t change is the fundamental importance of the work that state child support agencies do to support the well-being of millions of families and children through the CSE program.

Agency professionals can learn more about how they can continue to fulfill their critical mission by downloading the recent Thomson Reuters checklist.


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