Michigan tests ways to improve child support collections using advanced analytics

Michigan is exploring ways to improve child support collection for the benefit of families as part of a test project using data analytics.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Office of Child Support is using sophisticated software to rapidly analyze data and help make quicker decisions on child support policy that are based on evidence.

For example, one pilot project looks at the effects of talking with parents about paternity and child support before their babies are born and then assigns the families to a specialty court in Genesee County. Parents have responded favorably to the specialty court, which provides less adversarial child support settlement hearings that refer parents to community agencies to help them remove barriers to child support payment, such as by improving job skills and communication between parents.

Early indications from Project ADAPT – Acquiring DNA and Paternity Timely – show children are getting support more quickly, but more analysis and discussion are needed before MDHHS decides whether to implement the project statewide.

“The work we do to support parents of children born out of wedlock is so critical to children’s wellness and development,” said Erin Frisch, MDHHS Office of Child Support director. “This new analytical capability will further our mission to help parents establish a financial partnership to support their children, and enable us to make decisions about our services based on data.”

Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Applied Predictive Technologies (APT) of Washington, D.C., is working with the nonprofit public policy organization the Brookings Institution to study how APT’s software can test ideas for social services policy. APT’s analytics software, Test & Learn®, enables organizations to rapidly and precisely measure cause-and-effect relationships between new programs and outcomes. “We are excited that Test & Learn will be used to make important decisions that improve lives across Michigan,” said Matt Lindsay, vice president at APT.

Going into Project ADAPT, officials believed having conversations with families sooner about establishing paternity for children being born out of wedlock could result in children receiving child support payments from non-custodial parents sooner, Frisch said.

In a significant majority of 184 cases in Genesee County, paternity for child support purposes was established much sooner – often when a child was 2 months old versus 3 years old, the typical age in the past.

The MDHHS Office of Child Support also relies on the analytics to assess the effectiveness of pilot programs to determine whether forgiving some past-due child support results in children receiving more support sooner and whether different styles of enforcement by court referees are more effective in collecting payments.