Mark Greenberg, Acting Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families has this to say in summarizing the budget proposals on child support:
For the Child Support Program, we are renewing a number of prior proposals for efforts to ensure that children benefit when support is paid, for promoting access and visitation, and for improving program efficiency. In addition, we are proposing a $100 million per year Research Fund designed to support research on family-centered strategies and support state efforts to implement these evidence-based strategies.
Justification of Estimates further explains the research proposal as follows (bold added):
The second new proposal for FY 2016 is the creation of a $1 billion over ten years Child Support Research Fund to encourage state IV-D programs to implement family-centered services to support parents in their efforts to support their children, and tailor the appropriate child support enforcement tools for each family. Family-centered strategies are especially needed for poor and low-income families who face multiple barriers to supporting their children. Traditional enforcement remedies are often not as effective as they could be with this population.
There has been significant underinvestment in research on child support interventions. While the field is eager for strategies to produce better child support outcomes for all kinds of families in the caseload, many child support interventions are not evidence-based and the field lacks rigorous evaluation results to guide program administration.
A limited number of demonstration projects have been implemented via a competitive grant program from OCSE. These grants have helped to build up an emerging evidence base from states in areas including employment services, early intervention, specialized case management for military members and veterans, child support savings accounts, health care coverage outreach, fatherhood partnerships, and financial education. State child support programs respond well to performance incentives and opportunities for implementing evidence-based practices resulting from research, and most states are very interested in piloting and implementing family-centered strategies, but have not had the funding to do so. The child support field has a significant, unfunded potential for much greater program research because existing small grant funds can be awarded to only a handful of states for a limited period of time. .
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The first part of the Research Fund would provide $50 million per year in competitive grant program funding (Developing Evidence-Based Research), open to state child support agencies, to test and evaluate family-centered strategies to improve program effectiveness. The evidence gleaned through the Child Support Research Fund would be used to promote continuous, incremental improvement throughout the child support program.
The second part of the Research Fund would provide a $50 million mandatory formula grant component per year (Sustaining Evidence-Based Research), to be divided among 54 state child support agencies on an ongoing basis. This grant program is designed to encourage states to incorporate evidence-based approaches and assure that families in all states have the opportunity to benefit from family-centered child support services. Each state would receive an allotment based on the percent of children in the state who are eligible for the IV-D Program (that is, the percent of children who live apart from one or both parents). A minimum state allocation could be created to ensure adequate funding levels.
While the chance of initial enactment may be small, given the chaos in the budget making process on the Hill, it is surely good news for the future that the administration sees the value of evidence-based research in this area.
In the long term this potentially $100 million a year fund could lead to very significant research opportunities for courts and other access to justice agencies that have established partnerships with their state child support agencies. One could imagine this project funding a wide range of experiments in adjudication, self-help, Turner compliance, counsel, nonlawyer help, etc.
Given the generally bipartisan support for child support programs, this is one of those areas in which things might move forward faster then one might expect. The ultimate impact on a massive program, impacting millions of lives, could be enormous.
Finally, I would note that the potential availability of this innovation money provides yet another incentive for the courts to enhance their relationships with child support programs, and engage their state programs with the design of court innovations.
I encourage everyone considering doing research on outcomes about forms–to take a close look at this Michigan study funded through the Legal Services Corporation TIG in Michigan. The study looked at those who used online assistance and automated forms through Michigan Legal Help and those who used other types of forms (not automated) and those who had attorneys. Replicating this in other states and expanding the study to do post order data collection an analysis would be another significant contribution to understand the impact of online forms after orders are entered. http://michiganlegalhelp.org/news/michigan-legal-help-evaluation-report
Those interested in automated forms and online support materials specifically designed for those without lawyers–these two court systems (KY and SC) worked with their local legal aid groups to produce these materials and LawHelp Interactive forms: video: http://kyjustice.org/node/1879 and forms: http://kyjustice.org/library/1783. South Caroline also did a partnership between the parenting organization, legal aid, LawHelp Interactive, and the courts: http://www.connectingjusticecommunities.com/in-south-carolina-lhi-increases-efficiency-and-access-to-justice-in-child-support-cases/2014/02/ and http://www.lawhelp.org/sc/resource/self-help-child-modification-forms. If anyone wants to brainstorm about using online forms in collaborations with legal aid providers and courts, please reach out.