The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Child Support Enforcement (CSE) and Young Parents: Key Informants' Experiences and Perspectives

Friday, January 18, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Yookyong Lee, PhD, Assistant Professor, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
Amy McKlindon, Research assistant, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
Purpose. As an increasing number of children are raised in young, single-parent households, minor parents and young parents (ages 18-25) represent a special population of parents involved in the formal child support enforcement (CSE) system. To better understand their experiences, interviews were conducted with CSE staff to explore three primary research questions: (1) does the CSE process for young parents differ from that of older adults and if so, how; (2) are there unique challenges and facilitators to working with young custodial and noncustodial parents; and (3) what recommendations do staff have for improving the process?

Methods. Semi-structured interviews lasting approximately one-hour were conducted with 60 CSE staff in 7 Pennsylvania counties (representing rural, suburban, and urban settings). Most participants were female (83%), and two-thirds (66%) had worked in CSE for more than five years. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. Two research staff reviewed the transcripts, identified themes, and coded the transcripts individually. The coding schemes were continuously updated as new themes emerged and were condensed into one codebook through research team debriefings.

Results. Respondents indicated several differences in the CSE process for minor/young adult parents, as well as unique challenges and facilitators to working with this population. Overall, minor noncustodial parents were more likely to have minimal or nonfinancial orders due to their financial circumstances, utilization of fewer enforcement mechanisms, and an effort to encourage noncustodial parents’ high school completion. Most respondents identified challenges to working with young noncustodial parents, including behavioral challenges, lack of education, barriers to employment, misunderstandings and mistrust of the CSE system, lack of parenting knowledge, and multiple partner fertility. Respondents also noted that it is sometimes difficult to identify and engage young noncustodial parents. On the other hand, young noncustodial parents were occasionally also described as easier to work with because are less jaded (a “clean slate”), more willing to take entry-level work, less likely to have extensive criminal histories, and typically not interstate cases. Staff also described their experiences working with young custodial parents. Challenges to working with these clients included the couple’s fluctuating relationship dynamics, as well as custodial parents’ lack of cooperation, unrealistic expectations of the process, sense of entitlement to child support, and lack of parenting skills. Family and community members also influenced young custodial and noncustodial parents. Family tension, family biases against CSE, and grandparent involvement were all factors influencing the process, as well as misinformation received from family members, friends, and community members.

Implications. The findings suggest that the CSE process unfolds differently for young parents due to different procedures and expectations, as well as different individual characteristics and family/community influences. Respondents offered several suggestions for improving the CSE process, including the need for and the collaborations with more community-based services to serve young parents (e.g., mentoring, parenting classes, education and employment services, and individual/family counseling), increased provision of information about the CSE process, more efforts to reduce misconceptions about the CSE, and more preventative sex education both in schools and for current clients.