Improving the Image of the Child Support Program


Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel at the National Child Support Enforcement Association (NCSEA) Leadership Symposium in New Orleans, the biggest child support enforcement event of the year. Attendees shared best practices, participated in workshops, and furthered the conversation about today’s child support program and how it can best serve children and families. It’s exciting to see hundreds of people come together in support of such an important program. Their enthusiasm, commitment, and dedication was impressive to witness firsthand.

Our panel about the image of the child support program brought together experts from the fields of procedural justice, behavioral insights, and marketing. We shared how these three disparate areas all have a role to play in helping improve how the child support program is perceived by the stakeholders who matter most – its direct users, the parents who provide and receive support.

David Ramm, Director of Communications and Publications for the Office of Child Support Enforcement at the NYC Human Resources Administration, introduced and moderated the panel. He described the successful “Pay It Off program” that incorporated several different strategies to encourage parents who owed child support arrears to make payments to reduce their debt.

Kate Wurmfeld of the Center for Court Innovation presented the principles of procedural justice, a philosophy in which people are more willing to accept the outcome of a process if they believe the process itself is fair and unbiased. “It’s a common-sense approach,” she said. “Most people like to win, but are able to accept a worse outcome if they feel a process is fair.”

Nadine Dechausay of MDRC explained and expanded on the behavioral insights approach. “Most of our policymaking is organized around the belief that people act rationally. But they don’t.” She shared the importance of “putting ourselves in the shoes of the users of our program” in order to understand how they experience the process and whether it serves them appropriately. Using behavioral insights, “if we design programs to respond to the real psychological and behavioral needs of customers, we may reduce friction and improve outcomes.”

My role was to discuss how the principles of marketing could be applied to improving the image of the child support program. What seemed to resonate most with the attendees was the “Rule of Seven,” a well-known marketing adage that you can’t get a message to sink in with your audience by communicating it just once. While marketing to users of child support services may not seem like traditional marketing, I emphasized that “All communication is marketing, because all communication sends a message. And lack of communication sends a message – just as strong, if not stronger.”

Every state or county child support office has a different set of tools at their disposal, but our panel gave attendees a great deal to consider about how they might apply these ideas in their own jurisdiction. And this same combination of principles could be applied to nearly any government program – not just child support.

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