November 2018,  OneVoice CSDA Newsletter

Level Of Effort Study

By Natalie Dillon, Director, Yolo County DCSS

The Level of Effort (LOE) study is a joint effort of the California Department of Child Support Services (CA DCSS) and the Child Support Directors Association (CSDA) to assist in developing a budget proposal for SFY 2019-2020 of California’s local child support agencies. The study measures the amount of time needed to complete mandated activities (those which must be carried out to meet minimum federal and state case management requirements), as well as effective case management practices (best practices which have been proven over time to produce the most positive case outcomes). This measurement is intended to inform the funding needs for any LCSA with any caseload size.

A Survey Tool was developed by the CSDA New Funding Workgroup comprised of LCSA directors, senior staff, and analysts. The committee used a modified Delphi Approach in which a group of experts reaches consensus through a systematic discussion. For this study, the Delphi Approach was used to develop the major and subordinate tasks and activities required by federal and state regulation as well as “best practice” tasks that are not required but are performed by a majority of LCSAs on most cases. The current study takes the method a step further by utilizing a survey of individual counties which increases the validity of results.

The workgroup first determined those tasks and then categorized them into major groups aligned with the five Federal Performance Measures: Case Opening to Order, Enforcement, Medical Support, Review and Adjustment, Financial, Legal, Clerical, Admin, and further categorized them into sub-major tasks. The group purposefully did not list tasks that would be accomplished for outlier cases.

Based roughly on a tool created and used in determining staffing levels for In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), the child support tool uses a survey approach in which a sample of fifteen LCSAs with varying characteristics reported on the amount of time using either minutes to complete a task or a percentage of FTE for the identified tasks.

The tool also gathered information from the sampled LCSAs regarding caseload size, total budgeted staff positions, vacancy rates, turnover rates, and caseload demographics to aid in understanding how these characteristics affect staffing levels and performance measure outcome. Surveyed LCSAs were provided a set of instructions to maintain consistency in the responses.

Beyond these broad objectives, the study addresses the following important areas of the child support program in California:

  • Validates the primary tasks and activities undertaken by each LCSA
  • Cross references those activities to federal and state mandates
  • Measures the time child support caseworkers need to complete the identified tasks
  • Creates a benchmark of a “productive year” expressed in hours that captures the time spent in other activities such as training, meetings, and general administrative tasks
  • Addresses the question of whether there is a difference in effort required between management of welfare or non-welfare cases
  • Quantifies the effect that organizational structures (cradle-to-grave, functional, or combined) have on time efficienciesThe results of this analysis identify the statewide staffing resources needed at the local level to meet federal program requirements and effectively administer the program.
  • The results of the study include the following:
  • Staffing costs make up the greatest single expense category of LCSA costs, as well as associated costs such as office space, training, and operating expenses and equipment (OE&E). The implementation of California’s statewide automated system has improved the efficiency of the program; however, effective case management requires caseworker intervention. Caseworkers conduct intake interviews, carry out locate activities, negotiate the terms of stipulated child support agreements, and perform a number of mandated activities which cannot be performed through automation.
  • There is no difference in the level of effort to effectively manage assisted (welfare) versus non-assisted cases.
  • There is no correlation between the manner in which a Local Child Support Agency (LCSA) is organizationally structured and its performance or caseload size.
  • There is a correlation between higher performance and the amount of time needed to complete some case management activities.
  • In terms of staffing needs per case, the results of the study indicate the following:
  • To improve performance in California’s support order establishment performance measure to approximately 93 percent, order establishment (including case opening and court order establishment), requires an average of 8.9 hours of caseworker time.
  • The average enforcement caseload per caseworker should be reduced from the current average of 563 cases to 425 cases. Doing so would improve performance in the statewide collections on current support performance measure to approximately 70 percent.
  • The number of administrative staff varied for LCSAs based on the size of their caseload, tending to be higher for larger LCSAs.

The data gathering phase is complete. We spent the past few weeks analyzing the data and will continue to do so. It is our goal to produce a summary report and make it available to the California Child Support Directors and CA DCSS not only to inform the request for additional program funding, but also to identify potential best practices and new efficiencies.