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Professional Knowledge of Child Support Staff: Evidence from the New Jersey Child Support Training Program

Summary

The article focusses on evaluating the effectiveness of the child support training program offered by the New Jersey Child Support Institute. According to Huang, Blake, Edwards, Liu, Nolan, Rusen and Thompson (2010), the rising rate of divorce and non-marital births forced the Congress in 1975 to establish the Child Support Enforcement Program. The program helps the state secure child support payment, non-custodial parents, determine child support orders and ascertain paternity. The CSE system has improved in the past; however, there exist many children who do not get the chance to receive the benefits yet they are eligible for support. Although child support staff can work in the CSE system, they have little knowledge of improvements in the child support legislation and process because they lack training programs that are critical in improving their professional knowledge and abilities to work effectively.

The role of NJCSI is to offer programs that promote the knowledge and technical skills of personnel who work to enhance child support. The institute offered New Hire training (NHT) program and experienced refresher training (ERT). The program ensures that all staffs have a better understanding of the CSE systems. The modules used in both programs include interstate support, modification and transfer, case initiation, order establishment, obligation enforcement, case closure, financial management, and location service (Huang, Blake, Edwards, Liu, Nolan, Rusen & Thompson, 2010). An online learning management system was used to perform assessments. The pre-training results indicated that 55% of questions on CSE were answered correctly by participants (Huang, Blake, Edwards, Liu, Nolan, Rusen & Thompson, 2010). Post-training results show that the percentage of correct answers increased to 77%. In conclusion, before the training, most participants were not aware of the CSE system. The post-training assessment results show that training programs play a critical role in improving the professional knowledge and abilities of the personnel to work effectively.

Evaluation Goals

The program’s goals included the following. First, the program ensured it offered coordinated and complete training on all matters that concerns child support. Staffs who work in child support program received training starting on aspects such as case initiation to the last module of case closure. Other trainings include modules such as Order establishment, interstate support, modification and transfer, financial management, obligation enforcement, and location service. Second, the program ensured child support staff have developed an understanding of the CSE system. Developing knowledge of the child support enforcement system ensures an effective processing of the child support orders. Third, the program promoted the knowledge and technical skills of personnel who work to enhance child support. Due to the massive changes in legislations and enforcement system on child support, there was the need to boost personnel’s knowledge and technical skills. It was necessary for the program to ensure the staff maximized the advantages of the refined legislation and system (Huang, Blake, Edwards, Liu, Nolan, Rusen & Thompson, 2010).

The author proposed to evaluate the program in terms of its goals by using the available data from the training program. The author made use of the New Hire Training (NHT) and experienced refresher training (ERT) programs offered by the NJCSI. Besides, the author wanted to know the professional knowledge of the participant on the CSE system before and after conducting the program. The sudden changes in the legislation and system brought doubt on the abilities of the child support staff to work effectively; therefore, there was the need to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. The author used the NHT and ERT programs and used an online learning management system to perform the assessments.

Theoretical Perspectives

The program theory connects the program to the goals. The theory describes how the program contributes to the intended outcome. Besides, a program theory entails implicit and explicit assumptions of shareholders on the actions required to solve the problem and the reasons the problem will respond to the actions. The program theory includes the positive impacts and actions needed to achieve the desired goals. Regarding the NJCSI training program, the program offers training to child support personnel so that they can develop knowledge and understanding of the CSE system. To achieve the desired goals of the program, the theory is useful in explaining how the program works and brings together the available evidence about the program. A simple evaluation allows the author to understand whether the program works or not. A program theory connects the program to goals by clarifying in situations when there is an agreement or disagreement of the functioning of the program and existence of gaps in the evidence.

The explanation that was ruled out included the following. First, the advantages of the program theory go beyond determining whether the program works and giving the evaluator an understanding of the functioning of the program. Although an evaluation may provide evidence of the functioning of the program, it may fail to identify the mechanisms that resulted in the effect thus pinpointing the program’s deficiencies and the need for future improvement. The author used the theory to conduct the evaluation by ensuring that they evaluate the right thing. The theory provided the author with the guidance on how the program activities are organized for supporting the change process. Moreover, the theory provides a conceptual framework suitable for monitoring and evaluation.

Research Methods

The principal research method that the authors used included qualitative research method. The authors conducted the evaluation by administering questions whereby the participants were required to answer 50 multiple choice questions. The NJCSI is an institution that offers two training programs that include the New Hire Training and experienced refresher training. The number of trained members was 537; however, the sample that the authors used was 530 individuals since there were incomplete data regarding the remaining cases. During the assessment, the participants were required to answer the questions within 40 minutes.

There was an unintended consequence, and it included the following. First, even after the training, 25% of the questions were answered incorrectly. The reason might be that the delivery of the materials was poor. Similarly, since the knowledge of participants varied by the type of agency, there is need to develop training programs for staffs from different agencies.

Conclusion

The authors concluded that child support personnel need an urgent training in the fast-changing profession. Similarly, the analysis of the data indicated that most participants had limited knowledge of the CSE system before the training. Therefore, the training program plays a critical role in improving the participant’s understanding of the CSE system. The child support personnel need the training to improve their understanding of the legislation and system. Moreover, if the staff have little knowledge about the current legislation and system, then will be hard for them to take advantage of the improved enforcement system. Regarding the pre-training results, 55% of the participants provided correct answers. Conversely, the post-training results provided a positive outcome. The correct answers after training was 77%. Lastly, after the training program, there were no differences regarding knowledge between the new and experienced staff.

The program achieved its intended goals in whole. The program ensured that child support personnel had attained a comprehensive training to improve their understanding of legislation and system. The post-training results provide an ideal evidence to support the notion that training improved the participants’ knowledge of the CSE system. The results of the evaluation process were useful in improving the program. The program might have limitations such as poor delivery of materials. Such limitation will be portrayed in the results, and this will accelerate the need for improvement and further development of a program that will address specific issues (Carlson & England, 2011). The authors recommend that the child support personnel should have an urgent training in a fast-changing profession. The personnel needs to enjoy the benefits of the improved system. Second, one can improve the well-fare of single mother families by ensuring the child support personnel have a better understating of the current changes in legislation.

Evaluation Concepts

Some of the concepts that apply to the article include the following. First, testing refers to a systematic procedure used to measure the behavior of a sample by using a uniform set of questions. Besides, tests entail answering questions in comparison with others (Carlson & England, 2011). It includes measurement whereby the evaluator obtains a numerical description of the characteristics of an individual. The test is used in the article to gather information that is presented in measurements. The evaluator uses the measurements to perform an evaluation. For instance, in the article, participants were provided with a set of 50 multiple choice questions. The pre-training results indicated that 55% of questions on CSE were answered correctly by participants.

Second, assessment encompasses a systematic collection of data to determine the success of the program. With assessment, one tries to monitor the performance of an individual (Carlson & England, 2011). In the article, participants were subjected to assessment before and after the training program to determine whether they have developed a better understanding of the CSE system. The pre-training assessment was to get the baseline of what they know about current legislation and system. The post-training assessment indicated that some participants needed training in the rapidly changing profession. Third, evaluation refers to the judgment by the educational researcher on whether the program met the intended goal. The author evaluates the program based on the quantitative data of the training program. The pre-training results indicated that 55% of questions were correct while the post-training results showed an increase of 22%. This shows the program met its desired goals.

 

References

Carlson, M. J., & England, P. (2011). Social class and changing families in an unequal America. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

Huang, C. C., Blake, A., Edwards, R. L., Liu, C. W., Nolan, R. B., Rusen, B., & Thompson, D. (2010). Professional knowledge of child support staff: Evidence from the New Jersey child support training program. Evaluation Review, 34(1), 3-18.

 

 
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