I had the privilege of attending the 2017 WICSEC (Western Interstate Child Support Enforcement Council) conference in September in Anchorage, Alaska. It was a particular privilege as California’s own Tamara Thomas, Director of Human Resources, Stanislaus County was the presiding President. As an Honorary Lifetime WICSEC Board Member, I am a member of the conference planning committee. I coordinated, moderated, participated and spoke during various sessions throughout the conference.
One of the big highlights of the conference was seeing two of our own receive recognition from WICSEC. Specifically, San Bernardino DCSS won the Program Awareness Award and Stanislaus County DCSS won the Outstanding Program Award.
Program Awareness Award – San Bernardino County, California
San Bernardino County’s program awareness program began with a change in philosophy, as they moved toward a family focused process with a view toward removing barriers to support. They have successfully transmitted this message into the community through a variety of innovations to compliment more traditional methods such as radio interviews and educating local partners. Their facebook page has over 6,000 likes, and is used to advertise outreach events. They use email blasts with positive messaging, based on behavioral economics principles, to communicate with targeted audiences about various topics. They even have advertised on an electronic billboard on the very busy I-10 freeway.
Outstanding Program Award – Stanislaus County, California
In federal fiscal year 2016, Stanislaus County broke the $50 million mark in distributed collections, bringing in over 51 and a half million dollars, an increase of $2.1 million from the previous year. They were able to achieve this milestone through a variety of methods, from cross-training staff to increase comprehensive knowledge of program operations to focusing on cases paying less than 100 percent of the full obligated amount to “just asking” for an additional payment on arrears at every opportunity. They also improved the quality of services through focusing on customer service, more effective communication, and thanking parents with excellent payment histories. Outreach to high schools, Veterans, employers, and others rounded out their recent efforts to improve their program.
My favorite presentation was the plenary session Breaking the Ice and Melting Differences taught by Father Michael Oleksa on Cross Cultural Communication. This plenary was less a formal presentation but a series of stories connected together to broaden our world view. He points out that everyone has a culture and says the best definition of culture is “the way you see the world”. He had us each close our eyes and envision standing in an old barn looking up at the old rickety roof seeing the sunlight peek through the holes. He observed that when we step into the beam of light and look through to the outside, we see the world outside of the barn – blue sky and clouds, but no longer the beam of light. But when we step out of the light, yet still in the old barn, we can see the beam of light for what it is and all of the dust particles floating through it. He draws this parallel with culture – as our own culture is invisible to us. We can look at other people’s culture and see how they differ from our own, but we can’t articulate ours very well. From here, he gave numerous examples that magnified how our lack of understanding others culture often creates miss-communication. This presentation certainly changed my perspective and I would encourage you if you have an opportunity to listen to him speak.
One of the California presentations I particularly enjoyed was Everybody Needs a Little “Nudge”: How to Use Behavioral Science Concepts in the Child Support Program taught by Dr. Steven Golightly from the Los Angeles County Child Support Services Department and Cassandra Holzhauer from the Ventura County Department of Child Support Services. The workshop was highlighted effective strategies used in these California counties. For example, every letter from Los Angeles that is not generated at Central Print has a wet signature – no signature stamps, digital signatures, or blank signature blocks. Case managers are encouraged to personalize their letters with hand written notes, hand addressed envelopes, customized post it notes, etc. Furthermore, in letters and in conversations, staffs at both LCSAs use the customers and most importantly the children’s first names. This technique personalizes the conversation, nudging customers to “do the right thing”. Los Angeles has also used color research that speaks to what colors generate the best response. They have found we have been conditioned that green, means go, it means take an action – move forward. Whereas red and various shades of pink are viewed as negative and generally don’t get positive responses from readers. Cassandra Holzauer from Ventura pointed out that goldfish have a longer attention span of 8 seconds than current day humans at only 7 seconds. So if we are going to catch someone’s attention, we need to do it quickly! Ventura is very intentional about giving customers choice – multiple ways to make a payment, email, mail or drop off forms to the office, electronic signature with DocuSign or a wet signature, etc. They also found that by changing the order of the forms in the packet and moving the Answer Form up in the packet, more NCPs completed the form and engaged in the process – lowering their default rate. If you are interested in reading more about Behavioral Nudge Theory, I would recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s books Tipping Point as well as Blink.
The closing plenary was entitled Salmon Swimming Upstream, playing on the conference location in Alaska. Many local and state jurisdictions from around the nation are watching their caseloads shrink feeling like there is nothing they can do about. I was there to share some of the work Yolo County Department of Child Support Services has done develop our brand and change our community’s perception of the Child Support Program. I was able to highlight the new and improved website, our progress on social media, the Jack and Jill video’s, and the innovative marketing using cross platform advertising at the movie theaters. I was also able to show the tremendous success we have found using the Quick App in five short months since starting the new application; in just a few months the Quick App represents 17% of new-never assisted cases opened in Yolo!
The WICSEC conference is a great opportunity to learn about some of the innovative child support practices occurring throughout the western region – which is everything west of the Mississippi. The conference also has a strong focus on Interstate and tribal issues. If you haven’t attended before, I would encourage you to explore next year’s opportunity to attend which will be in Omaha, Nebraska October 14-18, 2018.
More information on WICSEC visit: http://www.wicsec.org/