Working with Low-Income Cases: Lessons for the Child Support Enforcement System from Parents' Fair Share. A. Appearance Rate at Reviews


Exhibit 7 shows the appearance rate among potential PFS referrals and two pieces of information important in interpreting this rate: the point in the hearing process at which potential referrals are identified and tracking begins (the later in the process that NCPs are identified and tracked, the higher the appearance rate) and special features about the local context likely to affect the appearance rate. The rate ranges from an estimated 5 to 10 percent in Los Angeles County to nearly 70 percent in Montgomery County, a range that does not appear to be explainable by the different points at which tracking begins in the various sites. As the table shows, some key features of the local enforcement process help explain these differences: the geographic distance to the hearing site, the use of additional (nonjudicial) contacts prior to the hearing, and the likelihood of sanctions for nonappearance seem especially important.

The low appearance rate in Los Angeles may be related to the scale of the outreach effort undertaken (thousands of letters were mailed to NCPs), which worked against intense individual follow-up with each NCP, the less formal notice, and the difficulty that NCPs encountered in getting to the site of the review (NCPs from across the county were called to a hearing in downtown). Findings from the ethnographic research on the project suggests that many NCPs are short on funds, lack access to a reliable car, and find the public transit system difficult to use for long trips. This may also be a factor in the Duval County appearance rate, since that county is geographically quite large.

Two sites (Mercer and Montgomery counties) at various times in the intake period put in place an additional contact with the NCPs between the time of the official notice of the hearing and the date of the hearing. In Mercer County, PFS program staff sent a letter to potential PFS referrals alerting them to the opportunities the program offers and the possibility they might be able to participate, and encouraged them to attend the hearing. In Montgomery County, the PFS staff attempted to make a home visit to the last known address of each NCP a few days before the hearing to encourage attendance. (This is discussed in more detail later in this report.) Both sites had higher-than-average appearance rates during the period in which these policies were in place.