Evaluation of the B.C. Family Maintenance Enforcement Program's Pilot Outreach Project



5.2 Client Meeting Survey

5.2.1 Description and Participation Rates

A survey was conducted with clients attending Client Meetings who had been referred by Family Justice Counsellors between September 9 and December 6, 2002. The survey consisted of a brief written questionnaire, which was distributed and collected immediately after the meetings by the Outreach Officer. The Survey was completed by both payors and recipients and collected information on:

Fifty-three clients (75 percent) out of a total of 71 referrals made during the study completed the survey form.

Completed forms were submitted from clients attending meetings at five centres: East Fraser (Abbotsford), West Fraser (Surrey), Burnaby, Vancouver and Port Coquitlam. The highest level of client participation in the survey was from Surrey. Thirty-eight percent (20/53) of the total number of questionnaires completed were from this Family Justice Centre site.

5.2.2 Case Data

Sixty-eight percent of the clients (36/53) attending Client Meetings were payors, 30 percent (16/53) were recipients and one person was both a payor and recipient. The majority of those attending the meetings had maintenance orders (96 percent or 51/53); only four percent (2/53) did not. Fifty-five percent (29/53) of the orders were from Family Court; 26 percent were Supreme Court Orders. One client had orders from both courts and nine clients were not able to provide court level information.

Eighty-five percent (45/53) of the clients attending Client Meetings were already enrolled in the FMEP, while 13 percent (7/52) were not. (In one case the client did not respond.) All of the non-enrollees wanted to discuss enrollment at the meeting.

5.2.3 Level of Payments Made

Recipients were asked to describe the level of maintenance payments they had received. While a small percentage had received regular payments, most described their payments as occasional (Table 13).

Table 13 Recipient Assessment of Payment Level and Regularity

Recipient Assessment of Level of Payments Number
No payments. 6 (35%)
Occasional payments. 7 (41%)
Regular payments as required by maintenance order. 3 (17%)
Regular payments then occasional. 1 (6%)
Total 17 (99%)

Most payors attending the Client Meetings had payment problems. Forty-six percent (16/35) described themselves as having made occasional payments; 34 percent described themselves as making regular payments as required by the maintenance order.

Table 14 Payor Assessment of Payment Level and Regularity

Level of Payment Number Reporting
No payments made. 2 (6%)
Occasional payments. 16 (46%)
Regular payments as required by maintenance order. 12 (34%)
Payments exceeded maintenance order. 1 (3%)
Payments made by wage garnishees or deductions. 3 (9%)
No recent payments (past was regular). 1 (3%)
TOTAL 35 (101%) *

* Totals may not equal 100 percent due to rounding.

5.2.4 Type of Assistance Clients Hoped to Obtain from the Client Meeting

Clients were asked to describe the assistance that they hoped to obtain from the Client Meeting.

Issues and problems defined by clients were diverse and case specific. Eighty-eight percent (20/53) of the clients described more than one problem or issue. The most common issue identified by payors (17 percent or 9/53) was a problem making payments because of a change in personal circumstances. These clients hoped to change their order or have their new circumstances taken into account. Eleven percent (6/53) wanted clarification on the exact amount of arrears owing and assistance in understanding court procedures or documents and enforcement measures (Table 15).

“(I wanted to) enquire about enrolling and asking questions about the kind of deductions allowed. To have someone help me fill out the forms correctly so that it would ease up time correcting later. Enquire about variance and continued university obligations.”

“Information on course of action due to extreme financial and mental disability. Anxious to look after children but unable to do so. Where do I go? What do I do? Can anyone help me? I’m terrified and alone.”

Table 15 Assistance Clients Wanted to Obtain from the Client Meeting

Type of Assistance Required Number Reporting
(N = 53)
Strategies to address problems making payments (payors only). 9
Clarification of exact amount owing. 6
Information about enforcement mechanisms—how they work and what they do. 6
Information about court procedures or assistance in filling out forms. 6
General information about case. 4
How to make payments (payors only). 3
Basic information about the FMEP–why enrollment necessary. 3
How to vary an order. 3
Status of variance of order. 3
How to stop enforcement mechanisms (e.g. Default Hearing, License Denial). 3
How to obtain court order. 2
How to file an order in another jurisdiction. 2
How to enroll in the FMEP. 2
Information about maintenance related to older children. 2
Wanting my side of the story heard. 2

5.2.5 Information Clients Received from the Client Meetings

Most clients described the Client Meetings as providing four broad types of information:

Twenty-six percent of the clients (14/53) said that they received information on the specific steps required to deal with payment problems; 13 percent (7/53) said they obtained specific information about their case of which they were not aware. Clients felt that the information they received was specific, direct and practical and was delivered in an attentive and non-judgmental manner.

“I found out how payments and garnishments occur. All our questions were answered with extra information (i.e. phone numbers and different areas to contact).”

“(The meeting was) very clear and helpful. (I was) advised yes, agreement is valid, and can be filed and court order obtained in England. I was advised what information I would need to provide and I was also advised I could accept a negotiated settlement.”

Table 16 provides detail on the types of information most commonly provided.

Table 16 Types of Information Provided at the Client Meeting

Information Provided by Client Meeting Number
(N = 53)
Steps needed to address problems making payments. 14
Specific case information. 7
Information about legal and court proceedings. 7
Referrals to other legal resources. 6
Information about enforcement actions taken against payor. 5
Assistance with specific court procedures/applications. 4
Completion of FMEP enrollment. 4
Handling enforcement mechanisms (payor). 3
Information about setting up a Voluntary Payment Agreement. 2
Review of total account. 2

One-quarter of the clients said they received very basic information about the FMEP and/or maintenance enforcement that they either didn’t know about or had never clearly understood.

“I found out how payments and garnishments occur. All our questions were answered with extra information.”

“Helped me to understand what can be done to get money owed, income tax refund, for example.”

These data indicate that there is still a small but significant group of outreach clients who lack understanding of basic FMEP policies and processes, such as information about enforcement mechanisms.

There was a strong positive correlation between the information hoped for and the information received. Of the fifty-one respondents who provided information about both questions on the questionnaire, 86 percent (44/51) said that the information they received completely addressed their enquiry; in 6 percent of cases (3/51), the information partially met the terms of the enquiry; and in 8 percent of cases (4/51), this was unknown. Clients assessed the information they received to be specific, practical and relevant. Two examples are provided below.

Assistance Wanted Assistance Received
"I wanted to know what steps are next because the payor is not paying." "Found out what has been done trying to locate payor at work, how much he owes and what legal action is being done."
"(I wanted) to clarify the amount owed and how to go about settling that issue with the recipient." "I was given information on how to make an agreement with the recipient and how to prioritize my options given the specific difficulties of the situation."

5.2.6 Most Useful Aspect of the Client Meeting

Clients identified three aspects of the Client Meeting as being particularly useful. The capacity of the Outreach Officer to clearly identify their problem and to provide specific options and steps to resolve it was identified by 36 percent (17/47) of the respondents.

“I left with two pieces of written information on what steps to take which I will work on immediately: Step 1: Book an appointment with a resource person. Step 2: Go to website on preparing court paperwork myself. Step 3: Proof paperwork prior to registering in court.”

Thirty percent (14/47) said that they most valued the face to face personal contact of the meeting because it was more respectful, empathetic and allowed for a fuller exchange of information and ideas.

“I like to be able to meet with the enforcement worker face to face because it is almost impossible to talk to someone in the office. With her having the computer right there she can check all the information.”

Twenty-five percent (12/47) of respondents found specific information about the working of the FMEP most valuable, particularly information relating to enrollment and the operation of enforcement mechanisms.

5.2.7 Least Useful Aspect of the Client Meeting

Only thirteen respondents had any criticisms of the Client Meeting. The most common complaint was that although information had been provided it had done little to change their payment capacity problem or the amount of payments they had received.

“Nothing has changed—still paying for two children, even with proof one child is 20 years old and a letter from ex’s lawyer agreeing to eliminate the child from maintenance. FMEP should not be enforcing the order.”

Four of the thirteen clients felt that they had not received information vital to their case or that new information (for example, payor contact information) was not available. Three clients mentioned a lack of sufficient legal information or resources to assist with their case. However, this was seen as an overall problem, not specifically related to the FMEP. One client said that the meeting took up too much time.

5.2.8 Evaluation of Quality of Service

Clients were asked to evaluate the quality of the Client Meeting on five measures: the convenience of the meeting time and location, and the courtesy, knowledge and concern shown by the Outreach Officer. Items were rated on a seven-point scale (1 = very poor service, 7 = excellent service). Results of the quality assessment are provided in Table 17.

Table 17 Client Evaluation of Quality of Client Meeting

Aspect of Service

N Ratings

Convenience of location.

51 3 (6%) 10 (20%) 38 (74%) 6.14

Convenience of time.

51 4 (8%) 10 (20%) 36 (71%) 6.27

Courtesy of Outreach Officer.

51 0 1 (2%) 50 (98%) 6.80

Knowledge of Outreach Officer.

51 0 1 (2%) 50 (98%) 6.73

Concern shown by Outreach Officer.

51 0 1 (2%) 50 (98%) 6.71

The majority of clients rated the Outreach Officer as excellent in the areas of courtesy, knowledge and concern. This finding corroborates the results of the Family Justice Counsellor survey. The consensus among both FJCs and clients is that the Outreach Officer is an excellent resource person with very good interpersonal and communication skills who conveys a strong sense of respect and concern for clients. She is a source of comprehensive, accurate, detailed and practical advice.

The convenience of the time and location of Client Meetings were not rated quite as highly. Some clients were frustrated that the meetings were scheduled during the daytime, requiring time taken from work. Because meetings are not held at all Family Justice Centres some clients had a somewhat lengthy distance to travel. This could be a hardship for those without personal transportation.

“It took up too much of my time. Evenings would be better. Had to miss work.”

Clients were also asked to rate how well the Client Meetings helped them understand more about the FMEP or resolve problems specifically related to making or receiving payments. These outcomes were rated on a 7-point scale (1=not helpful, 7=very helpful).

There was a consensus among 82 percent (41/50) of the clients attending the Client Meetings that the meetings were very helpful in increasing client understanding of the FMEP and maintenance enforcement. Payors were somewhat more polarized on the helpfulness of the Client Meeting than were recipients. More payors (76 percent) described the Client Meetings as very helpful in terms of addressing payment problems than did recipients (73 percent). The high positive rating given by most payors suggests that the problem solving approach is seen as helpful by the majority, many of whom have significant payment problems.

Table 18 Client Rating of Helpfulness of Client Meeting

Aspect of Service N Ratings
Not Helpful
Very Helpful
Helping to increase understanding about the FMEP. 50 3 (6%) 6 (12%) 41 (82%) 6.26
Helping recipients with problems getting payments. 15 1 (7%) 3 (20%) 11 (73%) 5.82
Helping payors resolve issues related to making payments. 34 5 (15%) 3 (9%) 26 (76%) 6.04

5.2.9 Degree of Prior Telephone Contact and Comparison of Telephone and Personal Contact

Eighty-one percent (42/52) of the clients attending Client Meetings had previously made contact with the FMEP to try to obtain information or resolve issues. Twenty percent of the group who could recall the number of calls made had had thirteen or more telephone conversations in an attempt to resolve issues. Family Justice Counsellors also identified the difficulty of resolving problems through telephone contact as a significant problem for clients.

Table 19 Number of Prior Telephone Contacts with the FMEP

Number of Telephone Calls Number Reporting
1 – 2 calls 10 (25%)
3 – 6 calls 12 (30%)
7 – 12 calls 10 (25%)
13 – 20 calls 4 (10%)
21 + calls 4 (10%)
Total 40 (100%)

5.2.10 General Assessment of the Client Meeting

All the clients stated that they found the personal meeting very useful and saw many benefits of this type of meeting in comparison to telephone contact. Forty-four clients identified specific advantages of a personal meeting. Sixty-four percent (28/44) of this group said that they felt face to face meetings are more productive, honest and direct and that they allow for more accurate, comprehensive and frank information exchange.

“It was not until I met in person and they could actually read my court order that they were able to provide me with the information and forms necessary for me to seek court help.”

“Because you can be more open and see for yourself if the other person is actually listening and is not distracted.”

“I feel it helps both parties understand issues better.”

The format of the Client Meetings made people feel more hopeful about being able to resolve their problems. This is because answers are usually immediate and case information can be accessed and reviewed while the payor is present.

“There is more time with you and you can ask all the questions and get answers right away.”

“More personalized and no rush.”

Thirty-six percent of the clients (16/44) said that they felt the meeting was better because the tone was more compassionate, supportive and reassuring. Some felt that, for the first time, there was someone actively listening to their problems.

“The reason I do not phone in is the lack of human contact, willingness to help and long waiting time. These are all very emotional and stressful issues that require human contact.”

“Able to build some kind of rapport. Able to talk to someone who is knowledgeable. Helpful, sincere interaction between human beings. A person does not feel so isolated in difficult times. Very good to feel a little better after this meeting.”

Twenty-seven percent (12/44) of the respondents felt that the details of their case were so complex that it was difficult to get assistance on the phone. Five respondents stated that they had tried to resolve issues over the phone but felt frustrated by the lack of response.

“Do not have to put up with terrible telephone system, just to be told they will get back to you in two working days. Cannot sit by phone for two days waiting for a call.”

Three respondents noted that barriers of language or hearing had made telephone contact difficult. These were addressed in the face to face meeting.

“Clear communication in person is necessary—I am deaf.”