Working with Low-Income Cases: Lessons for the Child Support Enforcement System from Parents' Fair Share. 4. The Steps in the Enforcement Process

05/01/1998

This chapter describes the specific steps that local agency staff take to enforce a child support obligation, assessing the challenges they face, pointing out the administrative resources available to address them, and suggesting promising solutions. In the course of this discussion, we seek to offer insights into how a program like PFS increases the ability of local CSE staff to identify cases in which NCPs are unwilling to provide support (in which a pure enforcement strategy is appropriate) or unable to pay support (in which a service approach like PFS can be appropriate).

This emphasis on steps in the process is consistent with the way many of the PFS sites organize their staff to conduct the CSE task. Specific CSE functions of a case are often assigned to different staff members rather than giving one individual responsibility for an entire case. This is especially true of paternity establishment, location, and enforcement. Five PFS sites follow the specialized model (Duval, Hampden, Los Angeles, Montgomery, and Shelby counties), while two follow the individual model, although with a limited amount of specialization (Kent and Mercer counties).

There are trade-offs with both the specialized and individual case assignment models. While specialization allows staff to build up expertise about one part of the CSE process, it also creates incentives for staff members to finish their part of the case and pass it on to someone else for the next step. In one site, for example, it had been the practice early in the demonstration for enforcement workers to refer cases with addresses but no information on employment to the Parent Locator Service (PLS), and then wait for information to be uncovered through the monthly matches of administrative records. In essence, because the PLS was often unable to turn up current information on employment for low-income NCPs, it included a growing proportion of these cases.