Public Safety

Technology Connects Child Support Services to Employers, Parents

A child support agency serves children but works mainly with grown-ups. Still, the rules guiding child support payments can be as obscure to adults as they would be to kids

A child support agency serves children but works mainly with grown-ups. Still, the rules guiding child support payments can be as obscure to adults as they would be to kids

But the San Diego County Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) was recently recognized by its peers around the state for helping parents and employees understand the ins and outs of the system.

The department’s unique series of webinars for employers and a friendly and widely-emailed electronic newsletter for parents were held up as examples for other California agencies at the recent Child Support Director’s Association (CSDA) conference in May.  San Diego received formal recognition, winning the Association’s annual Program Awareness Award

“My staff has been focused for several years on trying new and creative approaches that ultimately translate into increased support payments to children,” said DCSS Director Jeff Grissom said. “The honor is the latest recognition of their hard work and reflects the efforts of numerous staff members at all levels of our department.”

CSDA notes that San Diego County was one of the first child support agencies to hold in-person workshops for employers, and then the first to turn those sessions into webinars to increase attendance.  

The in-person workshops helped employers understand the process of withholding child support from their employee’s paychecks and rules guiding whether parents can or must add kids to their employee’s health insurance plan. But DCSS’s classes also had a limitation: employers had to make time to travel and attend.

A little less than two years ago, the department switched to the webinar format. It was an instant success, with 67 percent greater attendance for the first webinar compared to the in-person workshops. Two subsequent webinars have averaged nearly 130 participants, an 80 percent increase over the in-person sessions.

Participants have rated their satisfaction with the webinars an average of 4.4 on a scale with 5 being “extremely satisfied.”

Reaching out to employers is one way to increase child support. But noncustodial parents are ultimately responsible. Reaching this audience has been historically challenging, in part because of the perception that a child support agency is only an enforcement arm, rather than a resource to work with parents to provide medical and financial support to their children.

In August 2012, DCSS decided to launch a quarterly electronic newsletter to help change that perception. The newsletters, emailed to approximately 50,000 parents, proactively offer information and resources on various payment options parents might not seek on their own. For example, some people stop paying child support when they lose their jobs. But they may not know they can seek to modify their support order to reflect their reduced income.

Analytics and customer behavior show the newsletters have increased awareness.  

After one newsletter linked to a video on the department’s website explaining the child support process, views increased by 100 percent. An article about the option to seek modifications to child support orders prompted an 18 percent increase in requests for modifications.

“The data shows we’re reaching more parents and helping them understand the process in providing support to their children,” Grissom said. “I know my staff is dedicated to its mission, and their creative and successful approaches reflect that.”