The Importance of Involving Survivors of Domestic Violence in Child Support Improvement Initiatives
The design and functioning of the child support system directly affect the safety and well-being of survivors of domestic violence (DV) and their children. These effects can range from extremely helpful (e.g., increased disposable income, financial stability) to extremely harmful (e.g., child support enforcement triggering retaliatory violence, unsafe parenting time for children). Despite previous efforts to improve child support processes (e.g., Family Violence Indicator, Good Cause determinations, staff trainings), many survivors continue to fear negative consequences of pursuing child support. To create effective and safe processes for survivors of DV, it is crucial to engage survivors and DV advocates, programs, and coalitions in the co-design and evaluation of modifications to the current child support system. Engaging survivors and DV experts in co-design of child support improvement initiatives creates unique opportunities to advance the safety and accessibility of the system for survivors.
Co-design is a transformative approach that challenges conventional power dynamics in which decisions are made on behalf of a group without input from those most affected. It emphasizes collaboration with those who are most connected to or impacted by a particular issue or policy and places relationships at the forefront. Further, co-design thrives on transparency and shared power and strikes a balance between aspiration and practicality, thereby shaping programs and policies that genuinely resonate with survivors.
This document presents concrete tips for child support agencies on how to meaningfully engage and partner with survivors of DV. First, we provide overall strategies to support survivor well-being and empowerment throughout the initiative lifespan. Then, we share concrete tips for each phase of a child support services improvement process: planning, design, implementation, and performance monitoring.
Creating Meaningful Opportunities for Survivors to Share Their Expertise
Authentic co-design with survivors requires breaking down the power dynamics at play in any process that involves professionals and families. Survivors of DV are the experts on how the child support system impacts their families, while child support professionals understand how the system currently functions, including policies, technology, and political climate. Equitable partnerships value both impact expertise and technical expertise. To counter business-as-usual approaches—in which holders of professional expertise are sole decision makers and priority-setters—child support agencies should identify and implement mechanisms to uplift survivors’ power and decision-making influence within planning, design, implementation, and performance monitoring.
The degree to which survivors are involved and supported in the co-design of system enhancements may ultimately determine how transformative those modifications will be. Agencies should strive to engage multiple survivors in a variety of ways, both so that survivors can support each other and to avoid a narrow view of what survivors need. Agencies should ask survivors how they want to be involved (e.g., consultant, advisory group member) and allow flexibility in roles, as capacity and needs may shift over time.