At this point, it is useful to summarize (1) the steps in the process of identification and referral of noncustodial parents to PFS, (2) the way in which this process facilitated the sorting of CSE cases, and (3) results of this sorting process. During the PFS Demonstration, NCPs might be identified for the program in two ways: intensively working a random sample of CSE cases (which occurred in three sites) and reviewing the status of NCPs who attended review hearings (which occurred in all seven sites).
illustrates these two methods of PFS intake. In three sites, local staff provided MDRC with a list of CSE cases that appeared to meet the PFS eligibility criteria: the CP is receiving or has received AFDC, there is at least one child in the household for whom current child support is owed, the NCP has an address on file within the PFS program service area (usually the county), and child support payments are not current. MDRC staff then randomly assigned one-third of these cases to a research group designated to receive standard CSE (the "standard" group) whose members were not eligible for referral to PFS. The other two-thirds of these cases were randomly assigned to a research group slated for enhanced child support enforcement efforts (the "enhanced" group); members of this group could potentially be referred to PFS. Local staff made special efforts to determine whether these cases were appropriate for PFS, as discussed below. In order to test the effectiveness of PFS program services, those NCPs in the enhanced group who appeared for a review hearing and appeared to be appropriate for PFS were randomly assigned to the program group (referred to PFS) or the control group (subject to standard CSE). The details of this process are discussed below in section I.
In all seven sites, local CSE staff worked to identify through a variety of means (besides drawing a random sample from the caseload) other NCPs who appeared to be potential referrals to PFS and to determine at a review whether this was so. Enforcement staff reviewed cases they were handling and brought potential referrals in for a hearing or reviewed the regular court dockets for enforcement cases in which NCPs appeared to be potential referrals. When NCPs appeared at a review hearing, local staff determined the status of their case and whether referral to PFS was appropriate. As discussed above, those NCPs for whom PFS appeared to be an appropriate response were randomly assigned to the program group (referred to PFS) or the control group (subject to standard CSE). The details of this process are discussed below in section II.
I. Intensively Working a Random Sample of the CSE Caseload
In three sites (Ohio, Michigan, and Tennessee), local CSE staff started with a randomly
Exhibit drawn list of NCPs from their CSE caseload who appeared to be eligible for PFS. Cases in this group were slated for enhanced CSE: local staff were asked to make special efforts to review the status of each case, locate the NCP and serve him with legal notice of a hearing, hold the review of the case, determine current employment status and employability, determine current support order and payment status, and identify appropriate cases for possible referral to PFS. Thus, the information from these sites illustrates what happens when local CSE programs aggressively work a random sample of welfare-related CSE cases in which the NCPs have an address in the county on file and payments are not current.
In these three sites, local staff determined that between 8 and 24 percent of the cases on the enhanced enforcement lists were appropriate for referral to PFS during approximately two years of follow-up efforts. Details on this effort are presented later in this report, but data from Montgomery County, Ohio (the middle site in the range), and Kent County, Michigan (the high end of the range), illustrate the difficulties and successes encountered in this enforcement effort, as shown in Exhibit 3.
- Location problems. Local CSE staff were unable to make contact with slightly over 20 percent of the NCPs and/or get them to attend a hearing. In Kent County, this was primarily because of difficulties in locating and serving them with legally sufficient notice of the hearing. In Montgomery County, it was a mix of inability to serve and nonappearance at the hearing.
- Discovery of previously unreported employment or resources. In approximately 25 percent of the cases, NCPs either reported a job previously unknown to the CSE agency (for which an income deduction order was possible) or otherwise made child support payments without any referral to PFS. This smokeout of previously unreported resources does not automatically produce increased support payments, for reasons discussed later in this report, but calculations by site staff suggest that the resulting payments have been substantial.
- Identification of cases appropriate for PFS referral. In the two counties, 20 percent (Montgomery) and 25 percent (Kent) of the NCPs attended the review hearing and were identified as appropriate for PFS referral, thus meeting all the eligibility grounds for the program. As mentioned earlier in this report, these NCPs tend to have serious barriers to employment (lack of education credentials, unstable work history, high rates of criminal arrests, and so on), reinforcing both the need for the PFS option for a portion of the caseload and the challenge for agencies providing program services.
- Identification of cases inappropriate for PFS referrals. In approximately 25 percent of the cases, the NCPs turned out to be inappropriate for PFS for reasons previously unknown to the CSE agency. Some NCPs (1 in 3, or 1 in 12 cases overall) were disabled and receiving SSI, Veterans, or Social Security disability payments; thus they should not have been facing a current child support obligation. Others no longer faced a current child support obligation because they were living with the CP and/or child or the child was legally emancipated. Some NCPs were ineligible for the program because they were incarcerated and thus unable to work. The remaining NCPs in this category either lived outside the county or state (and thus could not be served in the PFS program), were deceased, or had a support order in which there were legal procedural problems in enforcement.
Resolution of Enhanced Enforcement Group Cases in Two Parents' Fair Share Sites
Source: MDRC calculations from enhanced-group logs completed by local Child Support Enforcement (CSE) staff.
II. Screening Through Other Means for NCPs Appropriate for PFS
All seven PFS sites identified NCPs who were appropriate for PFS by screening NCPs who appeared for various types of CSE reviews. The mechanisms by which hearing dockets were set varied from site to site. In some sites, special support enforcement hearing dockets were established just for NCPs that local CSE staff identified as potential referrals to PFS: that is, the CP was receiving or had received AFDC, and the NCP was not making required payments on a child support order. In others, local staff routinely screened the regular paternity establishment, order setting, and support enforcement hearing dockets for NCPs appropriate for the program. Once again, the details of how this was done vary and are explained later in this report.
To assess the overall picture of NCP identification, review, and referral, staff in six sites tracked what happened to NCPs whom they initially identified as potential PFS referrals as the hearing process unfolded. Over the period in which this tracking was in place (which varied from one to six months among the sites) the basic experience was as follows:
- Appearance rate. The rate of appearance at hearings varied widely, reflecting differences in the nature of the enforcement hearings, the accuracy of the addresses in the CSE database, the notice sent to NCPs, and local enforcement practices. Across the sites, 5 to 70 percent of NCPs initially identified by local staff as potential PFS referrals actually appeared as scheduled for the hearing. The factors influencing the appearance rate will be discussed in more detail later in this report.
- Smokeout of previously unreported employment. Across all sites studied, about one-third of all those NCPs tracked who appeared for a hearing reported employment previously unknown to CSE staff. The rates ranged from 8 to 55 percent. CSE staff were then in a position to institute a wage-withholding order. As before, this smokeout represents an effect of the added enforcement efforts connected with PFS intake.
- Appropriateness rate. The percentage of those NCPs appearing at the hearing who were judged appropriate by local staff for PFS ranged from 10–15 percent in two sites to over 70 percent in another. As a general rule, as sites were able to draw PFS referrals from dockets specially assembled to produce referrals to PFS, this percentage rose sharply.
This summary of the PFS intake process illustrates that the sites were able to improve their knowledge of the status of cases once they stepped out of their usual enforcement paradigm and developed methods to more effectively sort CSE cases based on NCPs’ circumstances. The next chapter presents more detail on how the sites accomplished this.