Child Support Implementation and Enforcement Projects Funded from 1997 to 1999

ENFORCEMENT PROJECTS

The objective of the Enforcement component of the Fund is to assist the provinces and territories to improve their collection of child support by supporting innovative, strategic and effective enforcement measures. The Fund allows the federal government to be a partner with the provinces and territories to develop, pilot test and implement timely, cost-effective enhancements to existing maintenance enforcement programs.

The Child Support Team's Provincial/Territorial Implementation and Project Development Unit, in consultation with the provinces and territories, identified six areas of activity for projects under the Enforcement component:

  • FOAEA Enhancements: developing and enhancing provincial and territorial computer systems and applications to access services under the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act (FOAEA);
  • Monitoring: monitoring the effects of systems and administrative changes and enhancements to enforcement mechanisms;
  • Maintenance Enforcement Survey: supporting changes to provincial and territorial information systems design to meet the data-collection requirements of the National Maintenance Enforcement Survey managed by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics;
  • Innovative Approaches: testing innovative approaches to improve support enforcement mechanisms;
  • Public Information: delivering public legal education and information to increase awareness of changes in maintenance enforcement programs; and
  • Responses to Workload Increases: implementing administrative changes, system upgrades, staff additions and enhancements to services to meet anticipated demands for variations and new child support orders.

The provincial and territorial projects funded under each of these area of activity are reviewed below.

FOAEA Enhancements

Eight provinces and territories developed or enhanced their computer systems to allow electronic communications with the office that facilitates access to federal databases and benefits owing to payers under the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act. The communication links to the FOAEA office, made via the Internet or file transfer protocol applications, were designed to increase the efficiency of entering tracing, interception and licence-denial applications and affidavits. The provinces and territories used Fund resources to hire coordinators, install new computers, buy encryption software, and design and integrate new automated forms and file and data exchange processes.

British Columbia's project was also designed to improve tracing and enhance the case-management system so that the province's Family Justice Programs Division could handle more search requests and new interfaces with other agencies, improve security and reduce down time. The project involved changing the division's information system and service delivery processes, and acquiring equipment and software. Policy development and the design of forms and procedures to establish data-match applications complemented the system development work. The division also supported implementation of amendments to provincial enforcement legislation and the development of agreements and protocols to access information held by other agencies on funds owing to defaulting payers.

Nova Scotia's Maintenance Enforcement Program adapted the file transfer protocol application developed and tested in British Columbia, assigning one employee to administer on-line inquiries to the FOAEA office. Program staff encountered some difficulties implementing this process and dedicated resources in 1998--1999 to solve these problems. In addition, the province applied Fund resources to revising policy and procedures for new and upgraded computer applications and to training Maintenance Enforcement Program staff.

Since May 1997, New Brunswick has been directly transmitting federal garnishment requests to the FOAEA office. New Brunswick had hoped to move to a system that would allow all 18 enforcement officers to send garnishment and tracing applications themselves, rather than through a central officer. Due to delays in implementing the second phase of the federal FOAEA system, New Brunswick will delay this decentralization until the federal system is ready. To protect people's private information, new encryption software will have to be installed on all 18 of New Brunswick's microcomputers before the FOAEA system can be accessed.

Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Yukon also devoted Fund resources to implementing data transmission capabilities and security measures to permit them to participate in the federal FOAEA system for on-line tracing, interception and licence-denial applications and affidavits. Saskatchewan also invested some of those resources in project planning and coordination.

Monitoring

Quebec and Nova Scotia undertook projects to monitor the effects of systems and administrative changes and enhancements to enforcement mechanisms. Quebec's project was designed to meet the information needs at all management levels for ad hoc and standardized reports. The work led to the development of a tool to identify problems at the file-creation level and provide informatics reports for system managers. Testing of the system occurred in June 1998 and implementation of the system tools in November 1998. Evaluation of the system included an assessment of user satisfaction.

The Maintenance Enforcement Program in Nova Scotia completed the automation of its processes. In 1997--1998, the work focussed on producing management reports and computer-generated forms for enforcement initiatives, including provincial and federal licence denial. The project team produced 16 automated statistical reports and seven new and modified forms, and auto-generated "night jobs" and "bring forwards", and client call-back requests.

Alberta set up procedures for ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the effects of the guidelines, and addressed identified issues in 1998--1999.

Maintenance Enforcement Survey

As part of the Child Support Initiative, the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics launched the National Maintenance Enforcement Survey to collect and publish national information about support compliance and enforcement. Governments will use such information for policy and program development, research and evaluation. The academic community, non-governmental organizations and the general public will also find it useful. This aggregate survey will collect information about cases in maintenance programs, describing the following:

  • the compliance and arrears status of payers, according to the amount due;
  • the amounts due and the proportion of those amounts received;
  • for cases in arrears, the percentage of dollars received and the time since the last payment;
  • the number of cases in which the recipient has payments assigned to social assistance;
  • the types of enforcement activities employed, by volume;
  • information about default hearings;
  • descriptive information about the people involved (e.g. median ages, number of children and gender);
  • the proportion of cases involving reciprocal maintenance enforcement; and
  • the authority (Divorce Act or provincial or territorial statute) under which the support order was made.

The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, in addition to developing a centralized data processing and reporting system, has contracts with the provinces and territories to build interfaces to extract maintenance enforcement data from their databases. Provinces and territories used Fund resources to design and implement system changes to meet the Centre's requirements. Nova Scotia began work on building an interface for the data tables for the National Maintenance Enforcement Survey in April 1999. The work is 90 percent completed and in the testing phase.

Ontario hired a consultant in 1998--1999 to complete detailed design work and programming of its mainframe. The province produced an extract containing monthly tables in August 1999.

Innovative Approaches

Provinces and territories designed projects in this area to test approaches to improving and supporting enforcement mechanisms. These projects covered a range of issues, including tracing defaulters, direct deposit and electronic transfer of funds, lock-box and quick-collect services, licence withholding, credit-bureau reporting, voice-response systems, reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders, automated court order processes, improving collection mechanisms, and Web site development.

Tracing:

Alberta hired a consultant to study ways to locate debtors and improve collections using private companies. The creation of a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is expected to take difficult cases from elsewhere in the Program, allowing these other areas to concentrate on the higher volume, less resource intensive cases. The SIU may have the ability to refer portions of the collection tasks to the private sector. Outsourcing to private sector agencies such as civil enforcement agencies, private investigation agencies and legal counsel, would occur when criteria for referral are met. The Yukon pilot tested a tracking officer position. The officer collected statistical data, documented tracking functions and developed draft tracking guidelines and indicators to measure the effectiveness of the tracking officer position.

New Brunswick negotiated an agreement so its Maintenance Enforcement Program can obtain on-line access to provincial data banks to help locate defaulting payers. The province anticipates the need for additional computer and communications equipment and the need to develop systems and protocols that would help trace defaulters. In the fall of 1998, Ontario implemented a private-public partnership with three collection agencies to track down delinquent parents who had not made a payment in three years. There will be an ongoing evaluation of the pilot project, which should be completed by the summer of 2000.

Electronic Financial Transactions:

Nova Scotia completed Phase 1 of a three-phase project to introduce direct deposit service for recipients. The User Requirement Document is ready and once year 2000 issues are resolved, Phase 2 (database design) and Phase 3 (programming, testing and implementation) will begin. British Columbia also studied the feasibility of using electronic bank services for collecting maintenance payments, providing coded invoices for payers through selected institutions, depositing payments directly to recipients' accounts, and allowing funds transfer and direct payment through key-account services. Noting that "payers get agitated when they must wait in a long line to make their payments," Prince Edward Island set up a computerized system to allow electronic direct deposit and pre-authorized payments.

In a similar vein, Alberta instituted the use of quick-collect and lock-box services. The financial institution receives all mailed receipts and electronically advises the Department of Justice of the transactions. Western Union provides a confidential payment method for debtors in other countries.

New Enforcement Measures:

New Brunswick invested Fund resources to study the effectiveness of motor vehicle licence suspension as a tool in maintenance enforcement. The study also examined opportunities to deny other licences, such as hunting licences, to motivate parents to comply with support orders. The province's work in this area included a review of the legislation and experience of provinces and territories that have implemented licence-denial schemes and an exploration of implementation options and costs. If these studies suggest that licence denial would be effective and feasible, the New Brunswick Department of Justice will apply to their government to launch such a program.

In 1998--1999, British Columbia introduced new measures to allow Family Maintenance Enforcement Program staff to pursue payers who are behind in their payments. The province considered credit-bureau reporting, withholding driver's licences, payment conferencing, personal property liens, data match with possible income sources, and enforcement against corporations.

Saskatchewan implemented provincial legislation that permits its Maintenance Enforcement Office to report defaulters to the credit bureau. The project manager consulted with officials in Manitoba, which introduced the reporting remedy some years ago. In addition, the project team changed the province's maintenance enforcement information system to facilitate reporting to the credit bureau.

Saskatchewan also pilot tested a new position, hiring a licence-withholding clerk to control the withholding function for one of the three enforcement officer teams. The province had found that licence withholding is an effective way to motivate defaulters but is quite demanding on maintenance enforcement staff resources. The clerk monitors case files to identify default payers who meet the criteria for licence withholding. Project managers found that teams with such support were 223 percent more likely to send a first notice of driver's licence withholding and 214 percent more likely to withhold a licence than those teams without administrative support.

Interactive Voice System:

British Columbia initiated an interactive voice response system to provide clients, payers, legal counsel and other government personnel with automated access to case-specific information. In the next year, the province will add telephone lines, use plain language, add more business transactions, simplify menus, collect more comprehensive statistics, enhance payment reporting and add Victoria to the system.

The Northwest Territories will install an audio-voice response system, which child support and maintenance enforcement staff will share, to complement the public information program. The interactive voice response project was put on hold in fiscal year 1998--1999 in order to reallocate a portion of the budget to help defray some of the costs associated with the purchase of a management information system from Prince Edward Island.

Nova Scotia also launched an interactive voice response information line. The project team developed new computer-generated forms in 1997--1998, including ones for the revocation of motor vehicle privileges, default hearings, court appearances, reporting order and real property liens. The province retained the services of the company that supports its information line to prepare and implement the new scripts that incorporate information gathered by these new forms.

Alberta reports that its interactive voice response system helped the Maintenance Enforcement Program deal more efficiently with the increased volume of client calls in various areas.

Ontario implemented computer-assisted telephone services in addition to its existing interactive voice-response system. Ontario's Computer-Telephony Integration (CTI) project has reduced the time client service staff need to respond to client enquiries. The CTI application has integrated call centre technology with desktop computers, routing calls to specific staff who have relevant case information on screen. Implementation took place in stages with full integrationin 1999--2000.

Reciprocal Enforcement:

British Columbia carried out work to ensure that its Family Justice Programs Division can, in reciprocal enforcement cases, transmit incoming and outgoing maintenance orders, and register, confirm, vary and enforce family support payments efficiently. The reciprocal enforcement project involves service delivery changes and system development activities, including query access to the family-search case management system, new screens for the reciprocal case transmittal forms and equipment upgrades. In addition, the program team is now implementing case-status query access to reciprocating jurisdictions and producing communications material.

Alberta used Fund resources to participate in national meetings on reciprocal enforcement and liaison matters with other provinces and territories. New Brunswick participated in national efforts to develop templates for uniform reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders.

Automated Orders:

Manitoba initiated a project to improve, with automated court orders, the efficiency of court processes, provide fair and effective services at a reasonable cost, ensure timely enrolment in the Maintenance Enforcement Program, and improve management of financial dispositions in Family Division courts. The project team is completing the work in two parallel streams: developing an automated order that can be registered with the Maintenance Enforcement Program, and redesigning the maintenance enforcement system to accommodate the automated orders.

Audit Standards:

Quebec invested Fund resources to improve its automated child support financial system to ensure it meets accounting and audit standards.

Client Relations:

British Columbia identified systematic client relations problems within the four groups reporting to the director of the Maintenance Enforcement Program. The review focussed on improving processes, enhancing systems, developing key indicator reports, and reviewing the complaint-handling process, and identified activities to be eliminated or improved.

Public Information

In 1997--1998, Alberta implemented a communications plan for the Maintenance Enforcement Program. Its goal was to educate creditors, debtors, lawyers, judges, elected officials, employees and the general public about the guidelines and the financial and legal obligations of payers. The initiative was also aimed at improving relationships with the employers of payers. The plan included a review of existing materials, creation of an information package for debtors and a Web site, the introduction of a community liaison complaints office, and the eventual launch of an integrated voice-response telephone system. In addition, the Program developed an in-house newsletter to educate employees about maintenance enforcement. British Columbia's communications strategy had similar goals and used similar tools.

In 1998--1999, Nova Scotia produced a public information video describing the Maintenance Enforcement Program. The video is intended for clients, stakeholder groups, law societies and others, and provides a good overview of the Program.

Ontario's Family Responsibility Office introduced a plan to reach out to the legal community. In 1998--1999, the Office conducted information meetings with members of professional organizations such as the Family Law Association and the Ontario section of the Canadian Bar Association, and new panel lawyers. The Office also produced a guide for family law lawyers about the support enforcement legislation and processes.

Saskatchewan's Maintenance Enforcement Office is located in Regina. As a result, residents in other communities have limited opportunities to deal directly with maintenance enforcement staff, nor do they have ready access to general and case-specific information. To help remedy this situation, the Office delivered two-hour public information sessions in eight centres in 1997--1998. In conjunction with these sessions, the Office offered people the opportunity to meet with a maintenance enforcement officer. The Office advertised the group and individual sessions in newspapers and maintenance program cheque mailings. In the individual sessions, officers had with them the documents and summaries of enforcement actions they needed to deal with specific and general issues. The group sessions were generally well attended. In all, the Office conducted 152 individual sessions, which were more successful than anticipated. The province continued the service in 1998--1999, given thesuccess of the first sessions. The Office also updated brochures about maintenance enforcement for the public, and published a handbook for lawyers.

Responses to Workload Increases

The majority of the provincial and territorial projects in this area were dedicated to enhancing maintenance enforcement information systems; however, some provinces and territories did devote resources to other activities. New Brunswick, for example, used Fund resources to cover the overtime costs for bookkeepers and enforcement officers who responded to the increased demands for variations in support orders and agreements following introduction of the guidelines. British Columbia used Fund resources in 1997--1998 to revise policies and procedures and for training to ensure staff could apply the new legislation in day-to-day case management. The training dealt with new second notice of attachment procedures, the use of licence- and passport-withholding power, guidelines for negotiating voluntary payment, and decisions on applications to vary orders or agreements because of the new guidelines or tax changes.

Systems Development: New Brunswick, having realized that its information system had a number of significant limitations, assessed the feasibility of modifying it to meet immediate needs, pending implementation of an integrated system. Following a favourable feasibility study, the province developed and tested a prototype database application capturing the required data elements. In 1998--1999, the maintenance enforcement database was upgraded to meet immediate needs, including year 2000 requirements and stabilizing the accounting portion of the system. Enforcement officers are now using the Windows database on-line, viewing live, updated enforcement data, including the enforcement status of their cases and updated financial information. Plans are to also provide enforcement officers with additional automated enforcement tools such as case status reports and case priorization tools and to provide managers with management reports.

Ontario's Family Responsibility Office hired a technology firm to develop and implement system upgrades and new applications. The work will result in enhanced client service, and enforcement and case management activities. These changes complement a new cheque-processing system. In addition to general upgrades of the system and hardware, the office developed a Windows-based interface for its mainframe case management system, a document management module to allow users to attach case documents to system files using desktop document scanning, and personal productivity tools to reduce delays and allow users to generate letters and reports. Subsequent phases of infrastructure development will see the introduction of send-receive fax capability and remote authorized-user dial-in access. The latter function will allow ministry lawyers throughout the province to access documents in court.

In 1995, Revenue Quebec developed an automated information and financial system for the collection of support orders (PAPA: Perception automatique des pensions alimentaires). In January 1998, the department began development work to add new functions to PAPA to accommodate legislative changes that had occurred since 1995. Efforts were also aimed at controlling operational costs, minimizing errors in calculating support payments, and giving staff consolidated reports from a number of data sources. Work was undertaken to identify the problems with the current system, define client needs and goals, and review work processes, assess the current organization and system, identify options and recommend a preferred model for updating PAPA. To this end, three studies were completed: an assessment of systems and procedures, a short-term action plan, and an implementation plan for rebuilding the system.

In 1997--1998, Saskatchewan's Maintenance Enforcement Office planned system enhancements, which included buying additional equipment and applications. Further, it implemented system reviews and modifications to ensure year 2000 compliance, improve its table maintenance capabilities, and perform new functions needed to accommodate legislative changes or to improve the efficiency and reliability of the system. In 1998--1999, the office bought additional equipment and applications to provide more officers with direct access to case management systems and external databases. The project team also designed and installed new forms and other system enhancements.

The Yukon is reviewing its maintenance enforcement computer system to identify development needs and to determine whether to enhance the existing system or build a new one. This work includes a review of the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics' data requirements to determine whether enhancements to the Maintenance Enforcement Program are feasible.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

For more information about the Child Support Implementation and Enforcement Fund, please contact:

Provincial/Territorial Implementation and
Project Development Unit
Child Support Team
Department of Justice Canada
284 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H8
Fax: (613) 952-9600

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