The Behavioral Interventions for Child Support Services demonstration used insights from behavioral science to develop interventions that could improve child support services. This report summarizes findings from 22 interventions that tested a range of design principles from behavioral science — for example, simplification, personalization, and reminders.
The Behavioral Interventions for Child Support Services (BICS) Project
This intervention tested with the Vermont Office of Child Support changed outreach materials and the structure of conferences with parents in order to increase parent participation in the child support process and increase the percentage of cases where both parents reached agreement outside of court. It did improve both outcomes.
Testing Approaches to Increase Child Support Payments in Colorado
Much child support is collected through income withholding, but it takes time to establish automatic deductions from parents’ paychecks. In the interim, parents must make payments manually, and often do not. This brief describes an intervention in Colorado that increased payment amounts during these first months after order establishment.
Testing Early Parent Engagement in Washington’s Child Support Program
The state of Washington tested an intervention meant to foster a better relationship with parents early in the child support process. The intervention included specialized caseworkers, phone calls, and redesigned documents. There was limited evidence that the intervention increased parent engagement, and it did not improve payment outcomes.
Engaging California Parents During Child Support Order Establishment
Child support agencies in Sacramento and San Joaquin Counties and the Behavioral Interventions for Child Support Services team tested whether a behavioral intervention could increase the percentage of parents who responded to early paperwork and got involved in the child support process.
Increasing Child Support Order Modification Review Completion in Ohio
In Ohio, the process to modify a child support order has two stages that typically take more than 100 days to complete. In two counties, the Behavioral Interventions for Child Support Services team worked with local agencies to test four interventions designed to simplify the process.
Using Behavioral Strategies to Increase Initial Child Support Payments in Texas
This behavioral science-based intervention was designed to increase the percentage of employed parents who made child support payments during the first months after a new order was established, before employer income withholding went into effect. It did increase the percentage who made payments in the first month.
As the first major effort to use a behavioral economics lens to examine human services programs that serve poor and vulnerable families in the United States, the BIAS project demonstrated the value of applying behavioral insights to improve the efficacy of human services programs.
Using Behavioral Insights to Increase Incarcerated Parents’ Requests for Child Support Modifications
A behavioral intervention provided incarcerated noncustodial parents in Washington with materials about their eligibility for a child support order modification and how to request one. It increased the number of parents requesting a modification by 32 percentage points and the number of parents receiving a modification by 16 percentage points.
Building a Body of Evidence
Over the past several years, MDRC has worked with the federal Administration for Children and Families to test low-cost behavioral interventions to improve child support services in a number of states. This issue focus describes what’s been learned so far — and what’s planned for the future.