Many noncustodial parents do not pay their full child support obligations and therefore accumulate child support debt. At the same time, many children receiving child support assistance have little or no savings to help pay for their higher education. In an effort to increase child support payments, lower child support debt, and expand the future economic opportunities of youth receiving child support, Kansas Child Support Services has created the Child Support Savings Initiative (CSSI). Kansas first established this program for parents who owe child support debt to the state, and, with the generous support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, they have expanded this program to noncustodial parents who owe debt to custodial parents.
The program uses grant funds to pay down noncustodial parents’ child support debt owed to custodial parents by $1 for every $1 deposited into state-sponsored college savings plans. One of the program’s hypotheses is that noncustodial parents will be more likely to make regular payments if they more clearly perceive that their payments are directly benefiting their children.
While CSSI is a significant opportunity for many children and their parents, past experience suggests that many eligible parents won’t participate in the program. Behavioral science research has shown that when people face unfamiliar options or small hassles, they can struggle to make decisions and take action. However, in recent tests, MDRC has demonstrated that interventions that account for common behavioral tendencies can improve social programs and connect people to valuable services.
Drawing from previous research that applies behavioral science to human service programs, and with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, MDRC is designing interventions to increase enrollment in CSSI, evaluating those interventions and the program itself, and sharing lessons with the child support community.