child and parent (KonstantinChristian/Shutterstock.com)

Parents, staff win with mobile app for child support services

The country’s first fully functional mobile app for child support services lets clients make payments and appointments, view their cases and get answers to common questions, making the process more convenient for agency employees and users alike.

“We were trying to increase collections, give our customers a tool that’s convenient to them so they’re not required to come into the offices," said Georgia’s Division of Child Support Services Director Tanguler Gray.  Fewer walk-in clients would then give employees "more time and more resources to address the more complex case management activities,” he said.

DCSS rolled out the Child Support Services Mobile App -- which took about a year to build -- in three phases, starting in September 2016. First, it let users make payments, get answers to frequently asked questions and receive push notifications about payment due dates. In the second phase, DCSS added a chat function so users could communicate directly with agents and view details about their cases.

DCSS deployed the third phase of the app on Feb. 17 to enable electronic signatures and document imaging so customers can scan supporting documents such as employment verification into their files.

“We have a lot of parents who are ordered to pay child support that are truck drivers, and so if there’s an issue with them getting behind on their child support payments, they can actually sign documents where they are on the mobile app,” Gray said. “There is no need for them to come into the office from another state in order to get their child support issues addressed.”

When a customer submits a document, DCSS agents receive an alert asking them if the document provided is "readable and in compliance with what was requested," Gray said. Agents can accept the document or reject it and provide a message back to the customer, which gives speeds the overall process.   

Additionally, custodial parents can now make changes to their bank account information or request that a case be closed via the app.

After downloading the app, users get an individual customer ID that they use to log in. They see a menu of their cases, pick one and select the action they want to take. For example, if they choose to make a payment, the app opens a window that lets them use a debit or credit card, or connect directly to their bank account. If they want to view payment history, the app shows them the previous 12 months.

Built on IBM’s MobileFirst platform, the app uses Java to connect to existing state databases. It also uses the same infrastructure that DCSS uses for its web portal, said Venkat Krishnan, CIO at the Georgia Department of Human Services, which houses the division.

The app works on Apple and Android devices, but to avoid having separate code sets, DCSS developed hybrid code for many of the functions, including the scanning ability. “I’d say 90-something percent of it is a hybrid,” Jerry Baker, the app's senior project manager, said. “We try to keep the native-type coding as low as possible.”

More than 100,000 people have downloaded the app. Of those, DCSS considers about 60,000 to be active users.

Although the state is still working to get metrics on gains directly attributable to the app, “we have seen an increase of our collections online since our deploying of the mobile app, and we’ve also seen a decline in our call center statistics as well,” Gray said. The center fields about 1 million calls a year, handles more than 411,000 support cases and employs about 1,075 people.

Several of the 54 child support programs in states and territories nationwide offer mobile apps. For example, the California DCSS has the CAChildSup app that lets users check their accounts for balances and upcoming appointments, make payments and get answers to FAQs. New Jersey’s NJ Child Support Case Information app lets users get information related to their payments and cases.

But the comprehensiveness of Georgia’s app sets it apart. It recently won a 2017 Best Practices Award from the National Association of State CIOs in the digital to government category.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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