Auditor Logo Susan Montee

Report No. 2008-88
December 2008

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Improvements Needed To Ensure Timely Child Support Administrative Hearings
The Department of Social Services, through its Division of Legal Services (DLS), has overall responsibility to provide timely administrative hearings for child support cases. From January 2006 through June 2008 the DLS received approximately 24,000 requests for child support hearings. Child support case parents may request administrative hearings to contest decisions made by the Family Support Division. Hearing requests may relate to establishing paternity, establishing child support, enforcing child support orders, or modifying child support obligations. Because of the importance of ensuring timely hearings, we focused audit objectives on determining (1) whether administrative hearings are scheduled, held, and completed in a timely manner, and (2) impediments that adversely impacted achieving timely completion of hearings.

DLS experienced significant delays completing hearings
Analysis of the DLS' database disclosed delays in completing hearings and rendering decisions have increased since 2006. In 2006 the length of time from the date the DLS received a hearing request to the date it mailed the decision averaged 4.6 months. In 2007, the length of time increased by an average of 2 months (43 percent) to 6.6 months, and for the first 6 months of 2008, the length of time increased again by .9 months (14 percent) for an average of 7.5 months. (See page 6)

Significant number of hearings in a pending status
As of June 30, 2008, the DLS had 7,388 hearings in a pending status, meaning either a hearing had not yet been scheduled or held, or a hearing had been held, but the decision had not been mailed. The 7,388 pending cases included 2,326 establishment cases, 1,834 modification cases, 2,983 enforcement cases, and 245 other types of cases. (See page 6)

Significant delays in rendering decisions
The DLS has experienced significant delays in scheduling, completing, and mailing decisions for hearings that have been held. Of 7,388 pending cases DLS had:

  • 733 (10 percent) cases pending for 30 days or less
  • 850 (11 percent) cases pending from 31 to 60 days
  • 965 (13 percent) cases pending from 61 to 90 days
  • 1,017 (14 percent) cases pending from 91 to 120 days
  • 1,332 (18 percent)  cases pending from 121 to 180 days
  • 2,041 (28 percent) cases pending from 181 to 365 days
  • 442 (6 percent) cases pending from 366 to 838 days (See page 7

Workloads, staffing, and turnover contribute to delays and backlog
Increasing workloads, staffing issues, and staff turnover have contributed to delays in scheduling hearings and the backlog of unwritten hearing decisions. Hearing referrals increased significantly from January 2006 through June 2008, and the increased volume has resulted in delays in scheduling hearings of 4 to 5 months. The DLS has taken action to reduce the number of hearings held per day, however, reducing the number of hearings from five to four per day will likely increase the delay in holding hearings. At current staffing levels officials estimate it will take about 7 years to eliminate the current backlog of pending cases. (See page 8 and 10)

Outdated and inefficient procedures contribute to delays and backlog
DLS procedures have not always been efficient or effective. This situation has occurred, in part, because the DLS had not maintained up-to-date policies and procedures manuals. In June 2008, the DLS distributed manuals to both hearing officers and clerical staff. Prior to June 2008, officials relied on a training manual which contained policies and procedures; however, the training manual was not complete because it did not contain addendums or other changes and/or updates to policies and procedures. (See page 13)

Improvements needed in training
Discussions with hearing officers disclosed that 9 of 13 hearing officers (69 percent) believed they did not receive adequate training when they were hired. Training consisted of observing other officers conducting hearings, practicing writing hearing decisions based on observations, and asking questions of other hearing officers. (See page 16)

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