Evidence Centre seminar: October 2019

Published: November 4, 2019

This seminar featured two presentations: one discussing the impact of an early intervention child support to improve financial wellbeing for families, and the other presenting findings around overseas and New Zealand support offered to teen parents.

Teen parents

Valmai Copeland is Principle Advisor in the Oranga Tamariki Evidence Centre. She has worked extensively on evaluation and research relating to families and the support provided to them by government. Valmai presented the findings from an evidence brief that synthesised information from overseas and New Zealand on support offered to teen parents.

Seminar video


Teen parents - video transcript

Valmai Copeland - Principle Advisor in the Oranga Tamariki Evidence Centre:

My topic today is teen parents.  I've got two major components to what I'm going to talk about, one's quite data rich with lots of graphs, so for those who hate graphs, sorry, there's going to be lots of them.  And then some insights from the literature.

First of all, a bit of bureaucracy, a lot of the data that you see displayed is drawn from the IDI, Statistics New Zealand's large scale linked database.  We have followed the appropriate protocols as to confidentiality and privacy so that the identities of people are protected and also just bear in mind that these sets of data that you see are not officially statistics, they are derived from the IDI by our analysts.

The purpose of the teen parent evidence brief was to understand the context and incidence of teen parenthood and also to gather some up-to-date evidence about what's working and what's not and what's being done both in New Zealand and overseas to support young parents.

Why we're interested is Oranga Tamariki is the Ministry for Children, and hence we have that duty of care for all children and specifically for children who are at risk of not thriving, and there's a lot of evidence that suggests that the babies of very young mothers tend to have a number of risk factors associated with their living circumstances.

So, just some context here.  How many babies and their mothers are we talking about?  The picture is changing over time.  Some of us can think back to 1972 where 69 out of 1,000 young women under 20 were having babies and that the number of babies born to teenagers peaked at around 9,000, so the world has changed a lot as you can see on this graph, which starts in 2009.  What we've got is two columns, one, the lower one, is first time births and the higher one is total births to mothers under 20.  And you can see that steady downward incline from in 2009, we were up at nearly 5,000, down in 2017, we're down to 2,300 overall, so effectively fallen by half over that time period, that's a remarkable change.

So, translating this into the fertility rate per thousand women, so that is of every thousand young women, this is the number of l ive births on average in that time period.  So, we're getting down in 2018 to 14 live births per 1,000 young women, down from, again, that peak of 33, but much higher, 69 per 1,000 in the peak at 1972.  I'm going to be using a whole set of sort of variations on birth rates of different forms, counts, fertility rates, comparison to existing years and also flicking -- in general, I'm talking about live births rather than total births; the difference isn't large but it is there as a difference.

One of the other things that's really interesting is the abortion rate for our young women.  If we look, again, 2009, eight or nine, it peaks.  That also aligns with the global financial crisis and periods of high unemployment and dropping down to 2017.  Why I find that interesting is that if we think back to the fertility rate and also to the abortion rate, it's not that the number of pregnancies is high and that this is compensated by a high abortion rate, it's that the number of pregnancies are actually falling as well.  So that's, again, a significant change, and there is some evidence that teens are delaying the start of their sexual experiences and that this has been marked in the last ten years.

We wanted to look at the age profile of our young mothers.  Is it the very, very young who are having babies, or the older?  And as you might expect, that top line is the 19 year olds, so the -- most babies to young mums are for the 18 and 19 year olds and that pattern has repeated across time.  Now, what is this graph, this is monthly births smoothed over a year, so if you're just looking at a particular line in a particular point in time, that's the number of births in that year, so that looking down to our group of 15 year olds which is that very bottom line, you will see that the number of births to 15 year olds per month has dropped to one or two or three rather than where it started at ten a month.

There is evidence that the medical outcomes for babies to very young women, the 15 year olds and younger, tend to have a lot more problems than older ones and so it's a positive thing that the age is somewhat older, also the older teens are more likely to be in some form of a relationship to have progressed further in their education and be more socially developed so that their support and resilience systems are better.

We also explored the ethnicity.  Now, this graph takes a wee bit of getting your head around, so I'll talk you through it.  What we've got is for Māori, Pacific, Indian, Asian and European/Other, the percentage of the births within that ethnic group so that if we look at our Pacific group, the orange is the percentage of all births to Pacific 18 and 19 year olds within that Pacific group, so 4% of births to Pacific women were to 18 and 19 year olds.  So, what this is telling us is there is quite different proportions of births within our different cultural groups and that for Indian and Asian young women in particular, those birth rates are really quite different and those proportions of births are really quite different than for Māori and Pacific.

We looked at using the IDI, the number of teen births by ethnicity compared to 2009, like where are the changes?  Because overall fertility rates and birth rates, the changes in drops in those over New Zealand are largely driven by the drop in teen births, so we were interested whether that was apparent for different cultural groups.  So, here we've got the blue line, the bottom line is other, Māori and Pacific.  Comparing it to those birth rates in 2009.  So, what you can see is, yes, descending for all groups, but descending more rapidly for other than for Māori and Pacific, and at around 2015 there's been a parting of the ways, a parting of that line between the Māori and Pacific groups.

We also explored financial security.  Now, this financial security relates to one of the five wellbeing domains in Oranga Tamariki's wellbeing model and it's largely based on parental income and history and extent of income support benefits and these are -- the baby's grandparents are really the drivers there rather than the parent, so we're looking back a generation, and what we can see here is for those with the lowest financial security, that mid-blue line up the top is the lowest financial security, the highest financial security is the bottom blue line, so that there's a clear difference in the rate of decrease in birth rates according to your income status, basically.

Around 50% of births to young mothers occur for those who are living in the lowest quintile for deprivation or the most deprived and hence the lowest area for deprivation, so there's a clear relationship between economic circumstance and birth rates.  The literature also tells us that when people have higher incomes, there are fewer teen births.

We also had a look at what about the kids in care who are in the charge of Oranga Tamariki.  So, again, comparing to that 2009 high point, how are things trending?  For young people who have never been in care, for those young women, the rate of decrease in birth rate is decreasing more from those who have ever been in care - that's the red line.

So, in this information, we've seen sort of -- an underlying premise is almost that teen parenthood is not a good thing.  However, we wanted to take a more holistic view there.  We wanted to look at what supports work both in New Zealand and overseas and what did the evidence say.  What we did find is that in New Zealand, there's very little formal evaluations have been done of teen support programmes.  Most of the literature that we found on this topic were from ERO, the Education Review Office, about teen parent units, and there are 23 teen parent units and about four to 500 young parents are enrolled in those units, predominantly women but there are about five, 10% young men, depending on the year.

The evaluations are mixed, there are some that are doing extremely well, there are some that are doing less well, but in general the impact is positive that they allow young parents to continue with their education and, as we know, education is a great predictor of thriving in future years and also of the children of those people with higher education thriving. 

Recently, in the last few years, the Young Parent Payment has been introduced and that's administered by the Ministry of Social Development, and that payment is made on the provision that the recipients are in education, so it's changed the dynamic around teen parent units as well. 

One of the other findings within the evaluations was that there's a lack of support structures for Māori, young parents within a Māori cultural framework.

So, looking more broadly at the literature, we saw that there are some challenges for young people.  These include stigmatisation and discrimination, disruption to both the education and to their careers and that there can be developmental issues for the young people, for the children of these young people.  However, there were circumstances that protected against negative impacts.  Particularly, there was social support, also support from their whanau, from their families.  That positive involvement of the father of the child, of those young mothers, was a protective factor for outcomes of the young people, and that worked two ways: both in the parenting of the child, but also in protecting the mother from depression and allowing her to cope more readily when there was that connection remained, and the taking of strengths-based approach to services and not seeing this pregnancy and birth as a bad thing also helped in the outcomes for the teen parents and their children.

Some young parents talked about advantages of being a teen parent, they were able to more closely relate to their baby and their children as they were closer in age, New Zealand and the rest of the world, the age of first motherhood has been increasing in general, it's now sitting at around 33, so that's almost a whole generation older than our 16 year olds are having babies, so quite a different relationship there.

Also, there's time once the baby is grown to have fun and to develop the career.  So instead of postponing motherhood and parenthood until the 30s and 40s, you do that earlier and then focus on the career, so just reverting to a different timeline.  And it can motivate positive change in the teen parents and I was fascinated there, most of you may remember Keisha Castle-Hughes, the young woman who was in the Whale Rider, she had her first -- she had her baby the month after she turned 17, and she had some very interesting things to say.  One of them was, "This is not a disaster, my family have already had -- have always had babies early and I'm just part of that", and her daughter lived with her uncles and aunts who were the same age up to sort of 13 years older than her so that it wasn't a disaster.

She also said that having her baby, Floss, motivated her to make changes for the positive to modify drinking, drug use and so on, and that was mirrored and resonated in some of the studies I read where young mothers said that the best thing that had ever happened to them was having their baby, that this was somebody they unconditionally loved and that also because they wanted the best for that child that they had moved themselves on, so while perhaps not the planned life course, also not the end of a life course.

We looked for ways to provide better support to young teens who are parents, one of them was to normalise adolescent sex and contraception so that accepting that it's part of life and talking with and being realistic with the young people about sexual behaviour and then actually providing health and sexual services, education and access to options.

It was important to include the young men in the dialogue, that it wasn't -- babies do not spontaneously appear, so that -- yeah, keep the young men in the conversation and involved, and support young people who are co-parenting.  Some of the options that were presented effectively took the young mothers and put them in isolation but know that the preferred option for the young people was to, as far as possible, stay together in their groupings.

Acknowledgements, Oranga Tamariki commissioned Allen and Clarke to do the actual literature review for us, so thank you Marnie and Jacinta in particular for that -- all the mahi they put in for us on that, also those graphs that we saw and the findings that I've talked about, our Actuarial Team within Oranga Tamariki provided the IDI analysis, I also drew heavily on Stats New Zealand's data and, of course, the IDI is part of their infrastructure.  Also, Ministry of Health and New Zealand Family Plannings published. 

Right, so that brings me to the end of my presentation which sets the context for young parenthood in New Zealand at the moment, so I'll now hand over to Mark and leave you to listen to his insights from the child support activities.

End of transcript.

Child Support Proactive Engagement pilot

Mark Takayesu is a Programme Lead in the Customer Insight and Evaluation team at Inland Revenue. He is currently leading multiple insight projects in Child Support at Inland Revenue and is passionate about improving the financial wellbeing of families. In this presentation, Mark discussed the impact of an early intervention Child Support pilot to improve outcomes for new parents, receiving carers and children. The application of these insights to improve customer outcomes was discussed within the context of a customer-centred and intelligence led organisation.


Child Support Proactive Engagement pilot - video transcript

Mark Takayesu - a Programme Lead in the Customer Insight and Evaluation team at Inland Revenue:

Thank you, Valmai, that was a really good presentation.  It's a nice segue looking at going from teen pregnancies going into Child Support services which a lot of what I'm going to talk about today deals with the young, new liable parents and the ways that we can interact with them.

So, a lot of you don't know me, actually, I've been in New Zealand for only about five years, prior to that I was in the US Child Support programme for about ten years and every year what we've done was we always debated what are the best ways to improve the programme so that we can better support the children and have outcomes for families. 

So, there's materials on a lot of research in the area, there's a worldwide Child Support network that's available on the web and it hosts a lot of different counties and it has -- I think they had two annual conferences where you can go and look at the literature of the Hague Conventions and things like that and some other countries, what they're doing.  There's also the National Child Support Enforcement Association as well and that has -- every year they have a national conference where counties -- about 35 counties from around the world gather and talk about how to improve the outcomes for children.

So, what I'm going to do is I'm just going to give you a little bit about what I'm going to present and first I'm just going to give a little bit of a context of Inland Revenue and then the second thing is what is Child Support and who are liable parents, who are they exactly?  Then I'm going to tell you the task at hand with regards to this early intervention pilot that we did for new customers and we're going to explain what we found with the pilot, and as a result of all these findings, you know, what did we do with them, did we use it for a BAU initiative or are we trying to improve -- how do we take these findings and move forward.

So, basically in a nutshell, Inland Revenue has its mission and vision and a strategic focus, obviously.  So, in the mission, we obviously contribute to the economic and social wellbeing of New Zealand by collecting and distributing money.  The vision is to be a world-class revenue organisation recognised for service and excellence, and the strategic focus is to grow voluntary compliance by making it easier for people to get it right, reduce customer compliance costs and make government policy changes faster and more cost-effective.  So, a lot of the strategic focus that I'm going to be talking about belongs to that first bit, which means we want to grow voluntary compliance to get people to get it right.

We just recently had a new restructure of our organisation, and in that structure we wanted to emphasise how we are going to work as an organisation and on three basic principals.  One is that we really wanted to be customer centric, we wanted to understand who our customers are and service them properly to make better decisions.  The second thing is we wanted to be intelligence-led, we wanted to use the data and the information we have to make better decisions for our customers, and then we wanted to be agile, we wanted to work so that we can gather insights from various people within the organisation as well those outside the organisation and work together in a very collaborative way to achieve our goals.

So, basically what is Child Support?  Well, Child Support, in its simplest terms, is money paid by parents who do not live with their children or who share care with somebody else, and the money is to help the cost of raising the children.  That relates basically to the Child Support Act and there's some articles in the Child Support Act and that Act was established in 1991 and basically the purpose in that Act gets a little bit more specific about Child Support and it's basically used to ensure that the children are financially supported by both parents, so -- and that parents maintain the financial responsibility for their children and that also it minimises the cost to the State in providing financial support for their children.

So, what does collecting Child Support really depend on? There's a really great article by Deloitte, who has done a lot of research in this area, called the Next Generation of Child Support Improving Outcomes for Families, and it really basically boils down to three things and I'll add a fourth.

The first is that you need parents to be cooperative, but exactly how hard is that to accomplish when you're dealing with the break up?  In reality, it's not very easy to have cooperative parents, you know, they fight for custody, they fight for financial responsibilities and so on and so forth.  Also is the parents' emotional connection with their children.  Obviously, the better connected you are emotionally with your children, the more likely you're able to cooperate and pay Child Support.  And, finally, it’s employment and/or income of liable parents.  We -- and our child's population tends to be on the lower income side, skewed to that area and with lower income parents, generally they support -- we're asking them to support single mothers or receiving carers who also are struggling to pay their bills and so on and so forth so in a really modern Child Support system, we have to work together as an organisation within government and between government to pull each of these levers.  So, how do we improve the employment or the financial wellbeing of parents so that they can support their children?  How do we have better conversations so that we can have parents be more cooperative in the process?  And the final thing I want to add is that I think we should have an organisation such as IR where it's a supportive environment, where parents don't have to feel threatened when they call us and that we can provide the support and information they need.

Just some really quick numbers of how many customers that we deal with, we have about 164,000 liable parents who owe Child Support in New Zealand and overseas.  We have 135,000 receiving carers, we have 183,000 qualifying children for Child Support and we bring in about 1,000 new customers entering the scheme each month.

Based on the annual report, we collected about $473 million and distributed $287 million to receiving carers.  We have about $2.3 billion in Child Support debt that we carry and I can talk to you a little bit about that later if you have questions, and then we collect about 69% of the assessment that's paid on time.

So, who are new Child Support liable parents?  Well, new parents are those who are assessed to pay Child Support for the very first time or they can be returning into the Child Support scheme after being absent for a while if they're newly assessed.

One of the very first pieces of work that we've done was we contracted out and interviewed customers to find out some insights regarding the onboarding experiences when they become new customers, and here's some things that they've said that allowed us to go into what this pilot was about:

First thing, they would like advice and help and information to be provided early in the registration process obviously.  They like to be provided a better education, going over their obligations at the earliest possible moment, they expressed a need for advice either face to face or over the phone and they like to have some reassurance after the first conversation that they know what to do and obviously it makes sense, right?  I mean, if I enter a contract and buy a house, for example, I would want to sit down with somebody and go over my 30 year mortgage, it makes sense.  So, if you're going to be liable for the next 18 years, you would wanna know what's in it for me, what happens if I don't pay, I mean it's common sense to me.

Other things that we looked at about new liable parents is that they're very young, the median age is about 25 years old, only about a quarter of these customers pay their first few obligations on time which is quite low.  They have relatively low income which is the median of about $19,000 per year annually and some insight work that we've done is that two thirds of these parents have over a 75% chance of getting into Child Support debt and staying in debt, so we have a lot of people who just, once they get into debt, they have a very hard time, difficulty getting out of it.

So, when we tested this idea, we looked at new customers using three -- basically three areas.  One is the use of behavioural innovations, we wanted to test this idea of having better conversations.  We wanted to use a customised case management approach where we wanted to walk customers through their journey for the first four months and then we wanted to introduce the idea of when we have a talk with customers, we wanted to have some sort of support service referral or information so if they have issues with housing or food or income or education, we wanted to refer them to the proper government agencies that can help them with their needs.

So, basically in a customised case manager approach, we had basically an initial call, an initial education call and they received an overview of how their assessment was calculated and then we followed up with the letter going over the details of the call and then they had a text reminder of the call before their first due date, and then we monitor them for the first four months, all calls were handled by a specific team of four officers, and then we assisted them with setting up payments through internet banking, and this was really key, we took the time to get them to set the payments up because a lot of them really didn't know how to do that, believe it or not, and once we sort them and help them and walk them through it, we found that we got some positive results.

So, one of the things in a behavioural interventions area is that we had a behavioural psychologist on our team and we used a variety of different things like soft skills training, empathy, active listening skills, things like using appeals, like, "Oh, by the way, I'm sure you want to do the right thing for your children", this sort of type of conversation, we reframe the conversations to make it easier to understand, use some negotiation techniques and the bottom one is really important because we emphasised the importance of paying Child Support for the benefit of his or her child, which we wanted to resonate that you're not just doing this because we're telling you to do this, you're doing this because you have an obligation to support your children even though you're not living with them.

For liable parents that needed outside assistance, we provided them with government agency referrals, like I said, to find some work and parenting and relationship counselling, et cetera.

So, we had this pilot and we tested 240 new liable parents and we compared them to two types of control groups.  One is those that received applications over the phone and the rest who didn't receive applications over the phone, we called them the Registration Initiative and the Standard Group respectively and the pilot ran from July through December 2017 and performance and survey results were assessed after the first liability.

So, here's some of the things that we found from the survey that was done after the pilot.  The pilot group found that effort was reduced, they found it easy to understand their obligations, findings also was that emotional stress was reduced, they found it less emotionally difficult in dealing with Child Support matters, the financial stress was reduced, digital literacy improved quite a bit, I would say so, believe it or not, a lot of folks don't have access to computers, they can't afford data plans on their phones, things like that, so we walked them through getting just more confident about internet banking and things like that, and then the attitudes towards paying Child Support obviously improved.

Some of the survey results also found that compared to the control group, there was an increased confidence by speaking to someone to get things right, by speaking to somebody, they understood their obligations, it removed the stress and it decreased customer effort and they felt more confident about what to do next. 

Some other performance results we tested looked at the first five months of the intervention compared to the next 12 months and we had three measures of compliance, one is the actual percentage of assessment that was paid and the percentage of customers paying full and on time, and the percentage of customers who paid their full first three obligations on time and as you can see, both in the first five months and then well into the next 12 months, the pilot group out-performed each of the control groups on a consistent basis and keep in mind that this is for brand new parents.

Now, there is a group of parents that were actually returning customers who were in debt and unfortunately this type of interaction had no effect on those because these -- our hypothesis was that they have debt and they've developed into this habit of not cooperating, and so one of the things that we're working on is how do we reengage people who are in debt, how do we negotiate to relieve their penalties so that they can re-participate in this system to support their children?

Now, this is a longitudinal look of the percent of assessment that was paid and what we notice is that by the second month throughout the -- and that's the 18th month by the way, I'm sorry, 18 months -- by the 17th month, the pilot group are paid much more of the proportion of their assessment than the other two control groups, while the two control groups have been declining over time, the pilot group sort of maintained itself throughout the longitudinal period.

So, bringing it all together, the results of this pilot demonstrated that a cost effective approach towards improving outcomes for families and the next step was, well, this is great and all, we have these findings, but what do we do with them?  Do we just sort of put them on a shelf and have a nice chat about it, or do we want -- can we do something really meaningful to implement something? 

So, what we did -- I'm sorry, the Families segment implemented an initiative called "This is Us", and it was implemented in July 19, and really it's taking in -- the philosophy of This is Us is to take and help train our staff to recognise that customers are at the heart of every interaction and that the Families segment pioneered this new way of engagement that embraces the shift in the way we service customers.  So, the activities are aimed to support Families officers to have better conversations with new and existing customers and understand the customer journey at every interaction for each of the following products, not just for Child Support, but we have Paid Parental Leave, Best Start and Working for Families.

So, in the end, This is Us is designed to build rapport, especially during their first point of contact.  It seeks to understand a customer's unique situation and uses empathy and relationship management skills to better meet the customer's needs and work with the customers to provide solutions and assurance and this is designed to improve overall certainty and assurance with their own obligations.

And that's the end of the presentation.  Thank you.

End of transcript.

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