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Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program 2006 Client Survey


The survey report, Final Report Maintenance Enforcement Program Client Survey 2006 was prepared by Burke & Associates Inc., November 28, 2006, based on a client survey undertaken in June 2006.

The results of the survey were published via the website of the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) of Alberta Justice. 

The survey report is prominently mentioned on the Alberta MEP home page, with Alberta MEP implying thereby that they not only fully endorse what the survey report contains, but that they will base forthcoming changes to MEP policies and work processes relating to its interactions with it clients (a.k.a. "creditors" and "debtors") on the recommendations made in the report. (See the full survey report, 1.12 MB PDF file, notice that the survey report is not located at the Alberta MEP's website but at the website of the Alberta Department of Justice.)

Comments on the Alberta MEP's 2006 client survey report

The Alberta MEP's 2006 client survey is based on a self-reporting sample of MEP's clients:

Survey Administration

MEP clients were invited to complete the survey online or in hard copy by mail. [p. 37]

Although a statistical evaluation of a self-reported sample is valid for the sample that is being evaluated, the characteristics of such a sample do not permit to make statistically valid projections to the whole of the population from which a given self-reported study sample was selected.  However, there are other concerns as to the validity of the MEP's 2006 client survey.

Data Purification and Quality Assurance

Measures were employed to guard against frivolous survey submissions.

  • Alerts were provided to identify any surveys that were identical, i.e., surveys that were submitted both online and then by mail. In these instances, a review of the comments was generally the criteria that were used to note the duplicate surveys. In this instance, only one of the two surveys was used. [p. 40]

That means that all anyone had to do to have duplicated responses included in the survey evaluation was to make sure that the comments in multiple submissions from one individual differed.

  • Some surveys that contained very obvious frivolous entries were deleted and not considered. Fewer than 10 in number, they were characterized by data that was obviously fabricated, i.e., answering 1 million when asked to respond to the question about how many children they had, or when all text entries contained threats and profanity and no other constructive text. [p. 40]

One is likely to wonder why so few of the submissions were omitted from the survey evaluation, but the following criteria for admissibility of responses provide the reasons for that.

  • Online entries where the respondent answered the first five to six questions, and then abandoned the survey were also eliminated and not included in the data analysis. However, if respondents completed in excess of seven questions, this data was considered. [p. 40]

It appears that nothing in the survey procedures permits anyone to determine whether any of the responses by alleged clients were in fact made by Alberta MEP's clients.  Furthermore, given that  the survey questionnaires contained a total of about 65 questions and that the report does not provide any information on what proportions of the respondents answered all or only specific ones of the 65 questions, for that reason alone it is not possible to determine the level of confidence with which one can be assured of the accuracy of any of the statements made in the report in relation to any of the evaluations of the answers even within the very narrow and exclusive scope of the survey responses.

The report identifies some of the answers that ostensibly agree with what the MEP's client files contain.  It also identifies some other answers that are at variance with what they should have been according to expectations according to MEP's client files.  It provides nothing that permits one to determine for all answers to what extent they vary from the expectations based on MEP's client files.

One must therefore conclude that the MEP's 2006 client survey provides information that has been validated by whether it seems plausible.  That is not a scientifically acceptable standard for validation of a statistical analysis.

The survey report does not permit one to make valid conclusions about the community of MEP's clients, nor does it permit one to determine to what extent the information contained in MEP's client files relates to the realities faced by MEP's clients.

An important aspect of the MEP's client survey is that it is an evaluation of opinions.  With respect to the vast majority of the questions asked, the survey measured perceptions, not facts.  It is therefore seriously misleading to present the survey results as facts.  For instance, the MEP survey questionnaire states:

[Question #5]

Rate how much you agree or disagree with the following:

I am in really bad debt. (Strongly Disagree; Disagree; Neutral; Agree; Strongly Agree)

A question like that cannot possibly be answered objectively or in absolute terms without absolute qualifying standards by which to measure the extent of "really bad debt".  Moreover, the MEP questionnaire fails to specify what constitutes "really bad debt".  In a giant leap of faith, the results of the question are nevertheless presented as absolute fact by MEP:

  • One-third of all creditors and slightly less than two-thirds of all debtors report being in bad debt. [p. iv]
  • Level of Debt

    Thirty-seven percent of creditors compared to 57% of debtors strongly agreed or agreed that they were in bad debt. [p. 15]

Perceptions do not constitute facts, and opinions are not necessarily even close accurately representing the facts that they ostensibly relate to.  Actual amounts of debt do not necessarily relate in relative terms to levels of concerns over debts by individuals.  One individual's concern over a one-dollar overdraft may be far more crushing to him than another individuals credit card debts that total more than $35,000.  A recommendation to address concerns over debts through financial counselling that necessarily requires a client's acceptance of behavioral standards with respect to financial responsibilities will therefore be addressing concerns that are in absolute terms quite possibly far smaller (or perhaps even much larger) in magnitude than the results of the MEP survey indicate.

Assessing Financial Resiliency

Struggle to pay for maintenance

Fifty percent of all debtors either strongly agreed or agreed that they struggled to get money to pay for maintenance.

What does this mean for MEP?

Since this percentage does not correspond with the number of respondents who said they were unemployed, this figure includes working debtors. If debtors are employed and struggling to make their maintenance payments, do these individuals require financial counselling services, variation of their current court order, or payment arrangements to help them meet their commitments?

Obviously, MEP feels that all court-ordered child support amounts are easily payable because they represent reasonable amounts.  Furthermore, MEP feels very strongly that only unemployed payers have a right to complain that they are burdened with crushing debts.  Both of those perceptions are in stark contrast to the realities of MEP's clients' lives.

Even the aspects of the survey that asked questions in absolute terms, such as the range of income level into which a respondent's income falls or such as the number of children for "creditors" and "debtors" (indicating a serious discrepancy between reality and the information contained in MEP's client files), cannot be ascertained with an acceptable degree of accuracy.  For instance,

Number of Children

The average number of children for creditors was 2.26 compared to 2.58 for debtors. These findings clearly indicate that MEP clients have additional children who are not subject to maintenance enforcement by/through an active MEP file. When active files for MEP clients with children are considered, the average number of children per file is 1.33. Debtors had fewer children living with them (1.8) compared to creditors (2.1). [p. 13]

The report fails to identify whether such large discrepancies between survey responses and facts recorded in MEP's client files are due to inaccuracies in survey responses or due to inaccuracies in MEP's client files.  The greatest concern that comes out of this is that it is quite likely that MEP files do not accurately reflect the realities of life faced by those who must live by the rules imposed through court orders and MEP procedures.  The following comment sent by "Cher" (2007 08 18) to Fathers for Life illustrates that.  Cher describes the details of the reality of life for MEP clients that neither court orders nor MEP files or MEP opinion surveys illustrate accurately.

I loved your website! And I'm a women!

Dear Fathers for Life,

I would just like to tell you that I loved your website. You men put all the things up that so many are thinking but too afraid to say, even though it is all the truth. My husband has an ex wife and two sons who live two hours away from us. He is shut out of their life and treated as a paycheck. Phone calls are not returned, he is not involved in any decision making even though they have joint custody. He did not find out his son went to have surgery until after he was released from the hospital!!! But when it comes time to pay child support there his ex wife is making time to get a hold of him.... anything for the money but not for the children.

I am appalled at how these women are behaving and equally appalled at the fact the government is allowing them to do so. If any of these women would put their children before themselves (as all these fathers are doing) this world would be a more peaceful place and the children would benefit.

My husband and I have a daughter together and I used to be a stay at home mom until the child support order went up. We are paying above and beyond the needs of those children while our daughter suffers... her share of her fathers money is being sent to her brothers as the courts only counted two of my husbands children worthy to receive support from their father. He has three NOT two and I am devastated by the courts!

If anyone out there have any second wife's and children can you please let me know if they are suffering as we are? I am looking for help to try and ask the courts to take ALL of the mans children into consideration when deeming a support amount. The "problem" of first wife's and children living in poverty has merely shifted to the Father and their second wife's and children.

Thank you,

Cher

Although everything Alberta MEP does is ostensibly "in the best interest of the children", Cher is quite right in identifying that in the eyes of the bureaucracy it is quite all right to make her a wage slave; not in the best interest of her very own daughter but in the best interest of the children and the wife of her husband's previous marriage.
   As far as the reality of the Alberta MEP goes, MEP opinion surveys are self-serving rationalizations for often extremely unjust and preconceived ideas that are without a doubt politically acceptable but serve to do little more than to intensify the bureaucracy's war against families and children.

The Alberta MEP undoubtedly feels that it received good value for the money it paid (out of tax revenues) for its 2006 Client Survey, but the report is so extraordinarily and fundamentally flawed that it is not worth discussing in further detail.  No reasonable conclusions can be drawn from the findings contained in the report that would objectively assess the equitability of MEP procedures and guidelines.  The findings of the report do not constitute an objective assessment of the personal or financial circumstances of MEP's clients, nor are they conceivably a measure of the equitability of court-ordered child support in relation to all children that a payer is responsible to support.

Policy decisions as to required modifications of the MEP procedures and guidelines must not be based on the MEP's 2006 Client Survey or on any other reports of equally deplorable quality but instead on nothing less than an objective and verifiable statistical analysis (using random sample selection) of all aspects of the personal and financial circumstances of MEP clients and their children, of the accuracy of MEP client files, and of the extent of universal and objective equitability of court-ordered child-support payments.

Before any recommendations are made and implemented, an objective standard for determining acceptable living standards must be made.  Then it needs to be determined whether the Canadian federal child support guidelines make adequate allowances for that, for level of income and for poverty.  After that, child support orders need to be evaluated within Alberta and within all provinces, to determine to what extent judicial bias distorts child support awards.  Lastly, the extent of compliance of maintenance enforcement programs with child support orders needs to be measured.  Only then can it be determined whether failures of MEPs deserve criticisms, and only then will it be possible to determine the extent to which complaints by payers ("debtors") or recipients ("creditors") of child support are justified and what needs to be done to address them adequately.

The proper tool for assessing shortcomings of all players in the child-support system must be a proper and exhaustive study of the whole system.  An opinion survey falls far short from being the right tool for that.

White RoseThe White Rose
Thoughts are Free

__________________
Posted 2007 08 24