Last month, January 2014, marked the 50th Anniversary of President Johnson’s declaration of “War on Poverty.” As scholars, advocates, politicians, and others took to the airwaves and media to debate the impact of our social safety net policy and investment in various programs to assist the poor over the last half century, the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) released a “Fact Sheet” entitled, Custodial Parents Living in Poverty. This OCSE publication offers the child support community the most up-to-date analysis regarding the value of child support income to custodial parent households, particularly those below the poverty line. The key takeaway for me was “child support represented 52 percent of the average income for custodial parents below poverty who received child support.”
Consistent, reliable support for the children and families we serve has long been a goal for our program administrators. Whether state, county, international, or tribal program, we see/hear many examples of efforts and strategies to more fully realize this objective. If successful program efforts can contribute more than 50% of the income to a poor custodial parent’s household, there can be no debate as to the importance of our efforts to assist the most vulnerable children and families among us.
Last week, NCSEA held its annual Policy Forum in Washington, D.C. Over the course of three days almost three hundred child support professionals came together to discuss issues impacting social mobility, the importance of systematic policy evaluation, how we define families across the U.S., European Union, and in Tribal communities, and whether existing child support guidelines sufficiently address the realities of our evolving caseload demographics.
As others debate 50 years of social policy decision-making, we know the child support program is making a difference. I am proud to lead a community of professionals focused on improving outcomes for children, eager to find better ways to deliver services, and not afraid to consider big, complicated issues. There are no easy answers and changing policy can be difficult. The risk, however, is not to us for trying and perhaps failing, but to the children and families we serve if we are not constantly challenging ourselves to find new and improved approaches that result in consistent and reliable support for more families in our program.