“Providing for our children is one of humanity’s worthiest and most fundamental endeavors. Children are the best part of ourselves—the sum of our past and the promise of our future, the guarantee that our lives and values and dreams will flourish long after we are gone.”
- Former President Bill Clinton, in his original National Child Support Awareness Month proclamation from 1995
In honor of Child Support Awareness Month and everything child support programs do to help children, we’re debunking some commonly heard myths about the program.
Myth: nobody pays their child support.
Many movies and TV shows falsely imply that parents who owe child support simply don’t pay it.
In reality, according to the most recent research from Census.gov (published in 2016), close to 75% of custodial parents who were owed child support in 2013 received either full or partial payments.
Further, it’s assumed that those who don’t pay their support don’t want to. However, the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) clarifies that’s not always the case: “Most parents who do not live with their children want to support them. The child support program is there to engage and assist them. If parents are unwilling to support their children who live apart from them, the program is there to enforce that responsibility.”
Myth: parents become too dependent on their child support payments.
It’s often assumed that people rely on child support as a sole source of income, or that people who receive payments become dependent on other government programs, too.
The Administration for Children and Family’s (ACF) has published extensive research showing the opposite. Their report, “The Child Support Program is a Good Investment,” links to multiple reports that show receiving child support can increase economic independence, increase the likelihood of employment, and reduce reliance on economic assistance programs.
Myth: child support programs don't need new technology.
Technology fuels efficiency, and child support—especially on the national level—is already an efficient (and cost-effective) program. So, why fix something that isn’t broken?
For starters, changing family structures, increasing incarceration rates, and other factors have drastically changed the landscape in which child support programs operate. Technology needs to keep up.
Further, many state systems were outdated to begin with, and even more so now given how much program needs have changed. The Indiana Support Enforcement Tracking System (ISETS), for example, is reportedly on the verge of collapsing because it was built on "dying technology" that’s overdue for replacement. If the system crashes, families across the state could be at risk.
Myth: child support workers only care about collecting payments.
Collecting support is just one small piece of the puzzle. Of course, there are other “core” child support activities that agencies are responsible for, such as locating parents, establishing their legal relationship to a child, or creating, processing, and modifying support orders.
More importantly, child support workers also focus on working with parents to ensure kids receive the financial and emotional support they need for their social well-being, health, and stability.
For example, they often work with other organizations and agencies to connect parents with programs and resources that help them overcome obstacles that stand in their way of fully supporting their kids (e.g., finding jobs, getting adequate health care coverage, improving family relationships, responsible parenting, etc.).
What other myths or misperceptions have you heard? To all the child support workers reading this, thanks for all you do to help kids!