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Evaluation of the introduction of a $260minimum child support assessment
The Child Support Scheme was introduced in 1989 to ensure parents who no longer live with their children continue to provide them with financial support. The Child Support Agency was set up at the same time to administer these arrangements. The amount to be paid is based on a formula and, until recently, non-resident parents on low incomes, including recipients of income support, were exempt from paying any child support.
In July 1999, a minimum child support payment of $5 per week ($260 per year) was introduced to ensure that even these low income parents meet the principle of providing support to their children.
This paper provides preliminary results of research evaluating the impacts of the introduction of a minimum child support assessment on resident parents (payees receiving child support) and non-resident parents (payers of child support). Major findings of the evaluation include the extensive support for the measure, including by those assessed to make the payment, the vastly different perceptions by child support payers and payees on a range of parenting issues, and the extent of disadvantage faced by some people in the payment and collection of the minimum assessment.
In 1994, a Parliamentary Joint Select Committee recommended that a minimum child support assessment of $260 per annum be introduced. The introduction of this minimum assessment was considered to be consistent with the principles of the Child Support Scheme -- namely, that parents share in the cost of supporting their children, and that parents have a primary duty to maintain their children.
The Committee considered that there may be special circumstances where it would be inequitable to apply the minimum payment, but suggested these instances would be rare and should be dealt with by the Child Support Registrar.
The Government introduced a minimum payment of $8260 per annum to take effect from 1 July 1999. Minimum assessments currently affect all child support payers with incomes between $260 per year and $12,000 (for a payer with one child and no other natural or adopted children in his or her care). As at 16 May 2000, there were 149,404 child support cases with assessments ranging from between $1 and $260 per year(1), with the Child Support Agency responsible for collection in 101,174 cases (68 per cent), while parents made their own collection arrangements in the remaining 48,230 cases (32 per cent).
The national evaluation project reported here comprised a number of research components, undertaken eight to ten months after the introduction of the initiative. These included telephone interviews with (an intended) 1250 payers and 750 payees, focus groups with Child Support Agency staff, and semi-structured interviews with representatives from the community sector.
The evaluation project was designed to evaluate implementation of the policy initiative to introduce a minimum child support assessment. As part of the project, the researchers also sought to:
* identify specific payer groups (for example, by source of income, ethnicity, current family composition, nature of employment, payment arrangement, geographical location, contact with children);
* identify specific payee groups (for example, by source of income, ethnicity, current family composition, payment arrangement);
* assess its positive or negative impacts on different client groups;
* investigate its impact on the general community and community sector;
* determine whether it has had any effect on care arrangements of children, proportion of private collect cases, or non-agency payments;
* identify where it is working and where it is not; and
* identify any problems in collection.
An extensive methodology was employed, encompassing Child Support Agency staff, community sector organisations, and a national survey of clients. More specifically, the components of the study comprised:
* focus groups with staff, including specialist officers;
* discussions/focus groups with community sector organisations across a whole spectrum of services such as legal aid, correctional services and prisoners' support organisations, payee organisations, payer organisations, emergency relief providers, and welfare lobby groups; and
* a telephone survey of 2266 clients, comprising 1500 payers and 766 payees, drawn from a random sample of 8000 payers and 2000 payees.
Client survey response rate
A total of 10,000 Child Support Agency clients were randomly selected for participation in the survey. These comprised 8000 payers and 2000 payees, who had child support assessments for $260 per year. These included eases registered for collection by the Agency, as well as those with their own collection arrangements in place.
Current details of each client in the sample were updated with current Centrelink records wherever possible. Initial letters were sent to each client providing information about the study and inviting them to participate. A form was enclosed, together with a reply paid envelope, so clients could update their details and nominate suitable times for telephone contact.
A minimum of six attempts were made to contact each client in the sample and attempts were made to locate them through the White Pages where contact details were outdated.
Of the 2000 payees randomly selected to participate in the survey, 766 interviews were completed, with 171 respondents ineligible to participate and 736 unreachable. There …