Working with Low-Income Cases: Lessons for the Child Support Enforcement System from Parents' Fair Share. A. The Usual Methods Used to Identify Cases for Enforcement

05/01/1998

When local CSE agencies begin to work this caseload to enforce child support obligations and — in the PFS Demonstration — identify potential referrals to the program, their approach is heavily influenced by three factors: (1) the staffing available for routine enforcement activity, (2) the reports produced by their automated data system that allow them to focus their enforcement efforts most efficiently, and (3) state or local enforcement priorities. Exhibit 4 provides some background information on these issues.

Across the seven PFS sites, two CSE programs are state-administered, with regional offices (Duval County, Florida, and Hampden County, Massachusetts), and the remaining five are county-administered. Choices made at the state and local level about enforcement emphasis and staffing deployment affect the caseload per "frontline" enforcement worker. In six of the seven sites, local CSE staff identified a special worker whose job was to monitor payments on cases, and take enforcement actions as appropriate. As Exhibit 4 shows, the caseloads of these workers vary considerably, but in all cases each worker handles a minimum of several hundred cases, and staff in one site (Shelby County) handle 8,000 to 10,000 cases. Many of these cases involve NCPs who pay support regularly and need little daily enforcement attention, but these large caseloads are likely to force line workers to make choices about how to spend their time and which cases or types of cases to emphasize.

Automated CSE data systems ideally could help frontline enforcement staff make choices — for example, by providing them with listings of cases falling into various payment statuses, such as current in payments, paid recently but not the entire obligation, and no payment received recently. In accord with federal law, all PFS sites have made progress to varying degrees on developing statewide automated data processing and information retrieval systems.

Unfortunately, the complexities of the data-processing tasks involved in these large-scale agencies have prevented some of the PFS sites from having such a resource routinely available for frontline enforcement staff, as the third row of Exhibit 4 shows. In three sites (Kent, Mercer, and Montgomery counties), frontline staff do get such reports on a monthly basis and use them to focus enforcement activities. In two sites (Duval and Shelby counties), reports are produced but they are not routinely used because either the format in which they are provided (cases not grouped by payment status) or their sheer size per worker makes them difficult for frontline staff to use. In two sites, local staff do not get such reports, in one case because much enforcement is done at the state level.

Exhibit 4

Staffing and Information Sources on the CSE Caseload

 

 

Source

Duval

County, FL (Jacksonville)

Hampden

County, MA

(Springfield)

Kent

County, MI (Grand Rapids)

Los Angeles County, CA

(Los Angeles)

Mercer

County, NJ (Trenton)

Montgomery County, OH (Dayton)

Shelby

County, TN (Memphis)

State or county enforcement agency

State agency: Department of Revenue, with regional offices

State agency: Department of Revenue, with regional offices

County agency: Kent County Friend of the Court

County agency: Bureau of Support Obligations within Los Angeles County district attorney’s office

County agencies: Mercer County Board of Social Services for paternity establishment and order setting and Probation Department for enforcement

County agency: Support Enforcement agency within Montgomery County Department of Human Services

County agency: Child Support Bureau within Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County

Average enforcement caseload per "frontline" support enforcement worker

Case analysts have caseloads of 1,500, which may include some closed cases.

Not applicable, because of local office emphasis on establishing new paternities and support orders; four staff members in each region handle enforcement on high-profile cases.

Friend of the Court caseworkers have caseloads of 4,600.

Family Support representatives have caseloads of approximately 1,300.

Probation Department investigators have caseloads of 700-800 and probation officers have caseloads of 400-500.

Child Support specialists have caseloads of 1,500.

Mediators have caseloads of 8,000-10,000.

Routine reports on nonpaying NCPs produced for frontline workers

System produces reports on all cases, not separated by paying and nonpaying so time-consuming to use given size of caseload.

Not routinely done for local office staff; possible on a special project basis out of state office; state staff have automated reports.

Yes; Friend of Court staff can also produce custom reports by extracting cases with specified criteria.

No, but system does produce information on next administrative action needed in individual cases depending on information about case entered into system.

Yes, system produces "tickler" list of priority enforcement cases.

Yes.

Possible, but hard to use for daily enforcement activity so rarely produced or used.

(continued)

 

Exhibit 4 (continued)

 

Duval

County, FL (Jacksonville)

Hampden

County, MA

(Springfield)

Kent

County, MI (Grand Rapids)

Los Angeles County, CA

(Los Angeles)

Mercer

County, NJ (Trenton)

Montgomery County, OH (Dayton)

Shelby

County, TN (Memphis)

Usual frontline staff approach for identifying cases in need of enforcement action

Case analysts typically respond to contacts from CP, to mail received providing location or employment information, to alerts from computer system about needed administrative actions or case status changes, and — when they have time — to information they cull from reports on payment status.

Generally, enforcement on existing orders handled by state central-level staff. Computer-automated enforcement system identifies cases with more than a certain threshold in arrearages and performs a variety of matches against other data sources to identify assets or employment. Regional office staff may get involved in pursuing particularly egregious cases.

Caseworkers respond to contacts from either party; phone calls from either party; mail with address, employment, or asset information; PLS information; computer-generated enforcement lists; and reports of case status changes. Some initial steps are automated and formal hearings are not first resort.

Family Support representatives review their caseloads and recommend cases to deputy district attorneys for court hearings.

Probation Department worker reviews priority list of cases and is prompted to take next appropriate action, including further investigation, filing of court motions, etc.

Child Support specialists review default lists for their caseloads and seek to contact NCP and collect information on employment. Generally reach all these cases within a month or they are referred to PLS.

Generally, mediators respond to contacts from CP seeking enforcement action. Certain categories of public-assistance-related cases with large arrearages identified by computer runs are referred to collection agency.

The task of identifying potential referrals for PFS was piggybacked with the existing local strategy for identifying cases in need of enforcement action and these reflected local efforts to set priorities among the NCPs on the caseload. The fourth row of Exhibit 4 describes how staff in each site identify cases for enforcement action. Not surprisingly, in the site with the largest caseload per frontline worker they operate largely on a "squeaky wheel" basis, with CP complaints getting highest priority.

An experienced case analyst in a site with a midrange caseload per frontline worker and modest use of automated reports of nonpayers described how staff in her unit set priorities:

  • Respond to phone calls from parents. If you do not, they will call your supervisor.
  • Check your mail and take appropriate actions on postal address verifications, reports of employment, and so on.
  • Respond to any alerts produced by the automated data system: for example, ticklers for future follow-up put on the system by the case analyst, changes in the status or configuration of public assistance cases, and data exchange alerts when the staff member has done location checks by matching against other databases.
  • If you have time, check payment lists from the state data system for your cases, looking for nonpayers for whom you have adequate location information to take further action.

Informal prioritization takes place even in the PFS site with the smallest caseloads (Mercer County), 700-800 each for the welfare agency investigators handling paternity establishment and first-time orders and 400-500 each for enforcement investigators. As the local CSE staff pointed out, they still face choices about which cases to work most aggressively.