California Brings Home $2M in Federal Grants for Digital Outreach Exploration

By: Nicole Darracq, CA DCSS

At the end of last fiscal year, the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) sent out a funding opportunity announcement, offering almost $2.6 million dollars in grants to applicants willing to explore the use of digital marketing as a tool to increase participation in the Child Support Program. A total of seven applications were submitted by the California Department of Child Support Services (CA DCSS) and local child support agencies.

At the end of September, the grantees were announced, and California had secured almost $2 million of the available funding with four proposals; three submitted by the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) in Sacramento County, Orange County, and San Diego County, and a fourth collaborative proposal by CA DCSS with Merced-Mariposa Regional DCSS, Del Norte County DCSS and Imperial County DCSS.

Sacramento County DCSS’s plan involves targeting families receiving non-Temporary Aid to Needy Families benefits like CalFresh, Medi-Cal and Covered California subsidies as ideal candidates for outreach. These families, although not automatically referred to their local DCSS, may also need child support payments to meet financial obligations. Using digital media and partnerships with Covered California and the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance, they seek to prove the efficacy of digital outreach with these families.

San Diego County DCSS, as a border county, has focused their effort on Spanish-speaking families in their community. Only ten percent of the San Diego County DCSS caseload identifies Spanish as their primary language, as opposed to 25 percent of the general population, a gap that San Diego County DCSS will address with Spanish-language social media, targeted emails, and Live Chat, identifying their target families through schools and census information.

Orange County DCSS based its concept on research they conducted in 2013, which revealed that 31 percent of the local parents who do not open a child support case upon divorce or separation delay opening a case because they are simply not aware of the program or how it could help. Their approach expands their current social media outreach to include streaming services and digital radio to test if educational messaging delivered through these channels will result in more case openings and increased contacts.

The collaborative proposal by CA DCSS, Imperial County DCSS, Merced County DCSS and Del Norte County DCSS used census data and OCSE reporting to identify regions statewide with high numbers of single parents and low percentages of cases where the parent receiving support is not receiving government assistance. Several digital platforms will be tested, including streaming services and influencer campaigns as well as paid social media advertising, search engine optimization, and messaging in both English and Spanish will be delivered based on county demographics and tracked for results.

The goal of the OCSE program nationwide is to create a body of tested knowledge and best practices for digital outreach that can be adopted by all the states, increasing the efficiency of digital media implementation and eliminating “re-invention of the wheel.” With these grant awards, California has confirmed its reputation as a digital leader throughout the United States – congratulations to the grantees and best of luck over the next two years!