|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:
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
- 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.
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
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:
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
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.
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
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.