The percentage of U.S. children living in a household with two married parents has dropped from 77 percent to 64 percent since 1980. While this doesn’t change the fact that children continue to receive the majority of necessary economic and emotional support from their parents, it does make it more of a challenge. Today, more and more parents rely on government provided financial assistance or court-ordered child support payments for their child, which means child support agencies are playing an increasingly important role in the well-being of our nation’s kids. The unfortunate reality is that many parents who owe child support face economic challenges that make it difficult to meet payment obligations, a societal hurdle that is reinforced by the more than $114 billion in unpaid U.S. child support in 2012.
Clearly the system needs improvement, and as the largest provider of child support services to government agencies, we’re seeing enormous progress through early intervention strategies. The old model was focused on enforcement – waiting until a parent misses a payment and then taking action. And while enforcement is an important part of the process, today’s innovative early intervention strategies are proactively identifying high-risk cases and focused on being a partner to parents to guide them through difficult child support challenges.
These proactive steps can take the form of education, guidance, community resources, and access to highly-trained child support professionals – which is what the MAXIMUS Early Intervention and Delinquency Prevention Program (EI/DPP) is focused on delivering. Critical techniques for success include:
- Identifying community resources that help parents build a strong foundation for success, such as:
- Life skills training
- Educational opportunities
- Affordable housing
- Substance abuse services
- Ongoing contact with employers to verify income withholdings
- Regular contact with parents to verify payment compliance, maintain contact information, answer questions and most importantly, offer encouragement!
This early intervention approach has already delivered some incredible results. For example, MAXIMUS designed and operates the California Counties Child Support Payment Services program, which has helped the state collect more than $22.8 million for children since its inception four years ago. Marin County has led the way, increasing overall collections by 21.9% in the past 3 fiscal years, and earning a number of awards from the California Department of Child Support Services for ranking first in overall statewide performance.
Early intervention requires a shift in strategy and mindset, but given the results, it’s a shift that we need to make on behalf of U.S. children.