The Kansas Child Support Savings Initiative


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.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The Child Support Savings Initiative (CSSI) helps parents save for their children’s higher education and pay down their child support debt at the same time. When a qualifying contribution is made to a CSSI higher education savings account, Kansas Child Support Services uses grant funds to send an equivalent amount of money to the custodial parent to pay down child support debt.

This program is a valuable opportunity for many parents and children. MDRC and Kansas Child Support Services are collaborating to identify features that might inhibit program take-up and to design interventions to increase participation in CSSI. MDRC will evaluate how effectively the program was delivered, whether behaviorally informed interventions increased program take-up, which parents contributed to the savings accounts, how savings and child support debt changed, and whether program participation affected parents’ regular child support payment activity.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

All parents who owe child support debt in Kansas are eligible for the Child Support Savings Initiative. MDRC will design a set of behaviorally informed interventions to increase program enrollment and use a random assignment design to evaluate them. MDRC will also analyze the effects of CSSI and use qualitative research to assess the program’s implementation. The evaluation will use administrative data provided by Kansas Child Support Services.