The British Child Support Agency: did American origins bring failure?
In late 1990 the British government published a two-volume White Paper, Children Come First: The Government's Proposals on the Maintenance of Children , announcing its intention to establish a Child Support Agency (CSA). In contrast with most of the literature associated with the British CSA, my main concern in this paper is not with the direct identification of the problems, or the perceived problems, the agency has experienced since its inception in 1993; it is with how the agency was developed, and how this can help explain many of its subsequent problems or perceived problems. More directly, I will show that the origins of the agency are to be found in policy transfer from the USA, and that the difficulties inherent in this process led to important implementation problems. To do this, the paper is divided into four sections. In the first section I examine why the Thatcher government decided to develop the agency, rather than continuing with the Department of Social Security (DSS) court-based child-support award system in operation at the time. Second, I demonstrate how parallel developments in Britain and the USA led the British government to be interested in, and then borrow, the key elements of the US Child Support Enforcement System (CSES). Third, I discuss the key elements of the CSA that were transferred from the USA. In the final section I illustrate how policy transfer offers an important, even if partial, explanation of the CSA's implementation problems, and why two successive governments have used considerable legislative time attempting to 'fix' the CSA.