Child Support Savings Initiatives Gathering Steam

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

At the invitation of the Child Support Directors Association of California, AEDI Assistant Director Melinda Lewis will speak at the 2015 Policy Symposium in Sacramento this week. This invitation-only event brings together local and state government officials, nonprofit child advocates, researchers, and other key stakeholders in California to examine policy changes that would improve outcomes, particularly around economic and social well-being and mobility, for children and families who receive public assistance in California today. Leaders within CSDACA heard Lewis speak at the National Child Support Enforcement conference in Portland, Oregon last August, sparking their interest in asset building as an approach with tremendous promise to improve life for at-risk children in their state. Lewis' presentation will address how child support agencies can improve the financial well-being of the families they serve, including through the expansion of Child Support Savings Initiatives, as well as efforts to link income-generating efforts such as child support enforcement to other asset-building initiatives, in the form of Children's Savings Accounts or other measures.

As we have described here, Child Support Savings Initiatives can leverage noncustodial parents' financial obligations to the state in order to accumulate education savings in the accounts of vulnerable children, without requiring budget allocation, since the unpaid debt is unlikely to be collected otherwise, and since states can receive significant financial incentives for reducing their child support liabilities, from the federal government. While, to date, only Kansas has a targeted CSSI intervention--currently being studied with support from the Kellogg Foundation, the findings from which might inform other states' efforts--there is other momentum percolating. In recent months, in addition to presenting on calls and webinars convened by the Department of Health and Human Services and others, AEDI has spoken with officials in Texas, Nebraska, Washington, and, obviously, California, who have questions about this approach to simultaneously reducing state-owed arrears and catalyzing children's savings. Policy experts at the National Conference of State Legislatures are studying up, too, as part of their support to state policymakers working on children and family issues. And officials in some New England states are considering how the child support system might provide some financial resources to support their Children's Savings Account policies.

CSSIs are certainly not a panacea for the challenges facing children in the child support enforcement system. They are not the perfect solution for financing CSAs, either, since many children outside the child support system still need the intervention of an education savings account. They cannot replace the adequate, regular income that custodial parents and children must depend on.

But, as an exemplar of how looking at policy through an asset-informed lens can reveal promising approaches to incorporate savings principles and, in the process, improve children's outcomes, CSSIs are a message worth spreading.

Next stop, Sacramento.

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