Child Support:

Need To Improve Efforts To Identify Fathers and Obtain Support Orders

HRD-87-37: Published: Apr 30, 1987. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 1987.

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GAO reviewed the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Child Support Enforcement Program to determine: (1) whether states' efforts to determine paternity and obtain support orders for children who receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) are adequate; (2) whether the data compiled are sufficient for program oversight; and (3) the potential impact of recent legislative amendments to the program.

GAO found that 42 percent of the children receiving AFDC who needed paternity determinations did not receive them because: (1) AFDC agencies did not refer all cases to child support agencies; or (2) child support agencies did not open cases, closed them prematurely, or did not work on open cases for 6 months. GAO also found that: (1) state case-tracking and monitoring systems and closure criteria were ineffective; (2) local agencies concentrated on cases offering the highest collections; (3) there are no federal standards to assess agencies' effectiveness in determining paternity and obtaining support orders; and (4) the HHS Inspector General (IG) has not reviewed the program's management. In addition, GAO found that: (1) 49 states felt that the 1984 Child Support Enforcement Amendments would help in collecting and enforcing support payments; (2) 20 felt they would help in determining paternity; and (3) 29 felt they would help in obtaining support orders.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Family Support Act of 1988 requires OCSE to obtain from states certain new information on paternity. This requirement is implemented through final regulations HHS promulgated in August 1989.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should require the Director, OCSE, to improve state efforts to determine paternity and establish support orders by continuing efforts to obtain accurate data from the states on paternity determinations and support orders and expanding the reporting requirements to obtain data on the states' performance of these tasks to enable OCSE to decide whether congressional intent for the program is being met, and to aid in fulfilling HHS oversight responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OCSE has issued procedural changes for results audits and follow-up reviews. Proposed audit regulations and paternity indicators are to be issued in FY 1990, pursuant to the Family Support Act of 1988. Additional audit staff have been hired. Also, OCSE has issued regulations governing state audits.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should require the Director, OCSE, to improve state efforts to determine paternity and establish support orders by assessing the OCSE program audit and oversight operations and capabilities and recommending needed improvements to the Secretary.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OCSE issued regulations on operations standards to be issued in FY 1989, pursuant to the Family Support Act of 1988, setting forth paternity performance indicators, and plans to develop regulations governing state audits in the future. OCSE believes that the regulations will encourage adequate staffing levels.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should require the Director, OCSE, to improve state efforts to determine paternity and establish support orders by developing and implementing performance standards for determining paternity and obtaining support orders and auditing local agencies to determine whether these standards are followed. Such audits should include an assessment of the sufficiency of staff, as specified by federal regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 1989, OCSE published regulations requiring states to establish case closure requirements, within certain parameters, and other operations standards, pursuant to the Family Support Act of 1988, including implementing the act's requirement for a case-tracking and monitoring system.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should require the Director, OCSE, to improve state efforts to determine paternity and establish support orders by developing case closure criteria and providing guidance and assisting states in developing case-tracking and monitoring systems for local child support agencies to ensure that cases do not go unattended for long periods, and that efforts to determine paternity and obtain support orders and provide other assistance are adequate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 1988, OCSE issued and distributed practices for improving IV-A/IV-B interfacing. In addition, a set of minimum data collection elements for use at AFDC intake were issued in August 1988. Also, in August 1989, OCSE published final regulations setting forth operations standards for case processing, but they have not been finalized. Other regulations are forthcoming.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should require the Director, Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE), to improve state efforts to determine paternity and establish support orders by taking appropriate steps to ensure that AFDC agencies refer cases and child support agencies open cases and pursue paternity and support orders as required by federal law and regulation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OCSE continues to assess its audit system and institute changes. OCSE has brought additional auditors on board to alleviate resource shortages and enhance internal audit capabilities. HHS IG involvement is not contemplated.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should request that HHS IG review the operations of the Child Support Enforcement Program to provide needed assurance that Congress and agency top management are regularly informed of OCSE management problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

 

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