Child Support Innovation: Where’s the Next Big Bang?

By Alicia Key, Vice President, Child Support Solutions, Xerox

Back in 1996, the field of child support enforcement was revolutionized by federal mandates to update Child Support Enforcement (CSE) systems, process payments in centralized State Disbursement Units (SDUs), and implement automated and administrative enforcement remedies. These efforts have produced powerful results. Payments are processed more quickly, getting funds to the families and children who need them, and the process is easier for employers than ever before.

But since most of these innovations were implemented by the year 2000, progress has slowed in the subsequent years. Advances and incremental improvements have been made in many states, but child support hasn’t had another major revolution in technology or process – and one might be overdue.

Blending our extensive child support expertise with the Xerox tradition of innovation and invention, we’re keeping an eye on the trends. Here are a few of the ideas we think might bring the next “big bang” in child support and help the national program take a quantum leap forward:

  • Ethnography. It may sound like an academic term, but ethnography just means the science of how work gets done. And it has helped many states and counties figure out where their processes are strongest and weakest, where they might be wasting time and effort, and how changing staff behavior can have a big impact on results. With the right expert eyes, a few weeks spent studying current processes can result in recommendations for near-term and long-term changes that yield huge efficiency gains.
  • More payment options – for everyone. Employers and individuals are responsible for keeping funds flowing into the child support enforcement process so that support can be disbursed in a timely and accurate fashion. Yet in some locations, individuals without checking accounts still pay their obligations by money order or cash. Mobile apps, kiosk interfaces, and other options currently in development could help remove these obstacles to payment. Employers of all sizes also need practical, simple, straightforward options. Great strides have been made, but there’s always room for improvement.
  • A fresh look at business processes. The SDU mandate overhauled one of the five main process steps in child support enforcement—payment processing—yet the other four have remained largely untouched. Especially in the earliest stages, case initiation and locate, many of the processes used in state and local offices haven’t taken advantage of the latest technology.

Could progress in one or more of these areas help state and county child support program operations break out of stagnation? Absolutely. Are bold changes needed? From our conversations and observations of the national child support landscape over more than two decades, we think so. Incremental progress is still progress, but a quantum leap forward in how business is done – something equivalent to the impact of the late 90s/early 2000s advancements – could do much more for the children and families who rely on the national child support program to make ends meet.

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