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



This report presents the findings of an evaluation of the British Columbia Family Maintenance Enforcement Program’s (FMEP) Pilot Outreach Project. The Pilot Outreach Project (POP) consists of three educational/outreach and enforcement components that involve payors and recipients of maintenance payments.

The three program components include:

The purpose of the evaluation was to address the following questions:

Seven methodologies were used in the evaluation. A telephone survey was conducted with 24 Family Justice Counsellors/Intake Workers at 10 Family Justice Centres to determine screening criteria, barriers to payment and the utility of the meetings to clients and the Family Justice Centres. A written questionnaire was distributed to all clients attending the Client Meetings between September and December 2002. The survey assessed client needs, previous FMEP contact and the quality and usefulness of the service. Fifty-one (75 percent) of the clients referred to the meetings during the study responded.

Two methodologies were used to assess the outcomes of the Payment Conferences: 1) a detailed review of demographic case data and Payment Conference outcomes based on three sources of data (including FMEP case records), and 2) telephone survey of payors. Twenty-five cases were assessed. This included all the cases seen at Payment Conferences between August 2001 and August 2002. Return rates for the payor telephone survey were low (40 percent), primarily due to an inability to locate payors or their unwillingness to participate.

The evaluation also included a document and statistical review and interviews with key respondents. A Ministry of Human Resources Information Survey was not implemented because no information sessions were held during the study period.

Several data collection problems arose during the implementation of this research. There was a lack of data or incomplete data available on the FMEP forms that record referrals and outcomes for Payment Conferences. Data on the FMEP electronic case management system was also sometimes inconsistent or incomplete. In all cases, information on Payment Conferences was verified using the running record, which is a narrative account of case history.

The evaluation concluded that:

The findings suggest that there is a need to consider an expanded role for the Client Meeting component of the Pilot Outreach Project. This could include expansion of the Client Meetings to more sites—increasing the presence of the Outreach Officer at higher volume sites (such as Surrey and Vancouver) and expanding referral sources to include FMEP Enforcement Officers as well as Family Justice Counsellors. Consideration could be given to expanding the purpose of Client Meetings so they are considered part of an arrears “prevention” approach for payors rather than simply providing an opportunity for information exchange and problem solving.

The FMEP has always been concerned about establishing an alternative service delivery model that cannot be sustained. Referral sources to Client Meetings, however, have already been expanded and now may include the Ministry of Human Resources, Duty Counsel, Enforcement Officers and walk-in clients. It will be important to clarify these sources and referral protocols so that expectations around any expanded use are clear.

The value of the Payment Conferences in achieving payment agreements, producing useful financial information and arrears payments is limited. Some consideration has been given by the FMEP to referring payors with other kinds of backgrounds and payment histories to the Payment Conferences. However, results from this analysis suggest that the majority of the payors now attending Payment Conferences appear to have legitimate issues regarding their ability to pay. A more fruitful approach may be to intervene much earlier in the payment breakdown process. Again, specific criteria need to be developed to identify those payors who might then be more effectively addressed through a voluntary mechanism such as Client Meetings.