A collateral contact is a source of information knowledgeable about a household's situation. The collateral contact typically either corroborates or supports information provided by household members. Collateral contacts are often used in child custody cases to obtain information about a child, parent or other person responsible for the child. In these cases, the collateral contact often has knowledge of the family situation without having personal involvement in the situation.
Function and Communication
Collateral contacts provide a third-party validation of the household circumstances and help ensure correct eligibility and payment determinations are made by the courts. Courts often use collateral contacts to support or impeach a client’s statement or when evidence of certain eligibility criteria does not exist. Examples of collateral contacts include employers, past or present landlords, neighbors, school officials, day-care providers and other persons outside the household.
Obtaining a Collateral Contact
A caseworker often asks for the names of several persons for use as possible collateral contacts. The caseworker can request this contact information during face-to-face interviews, during a home visit, by telephone or in writing. The caseworker uses the collateral contact to support statements made by household members or to determine eligibility factors. The caseworker normally determines whether the specific case requires collateral contacts and what kind of information to request from these contacts.
The household members normally provide all relevant information to the caseworker required for the caseworker to make a determination. The caseworker ordinarily gives the household the opportunity to provide all necessary verification information. If the caseworker has doubts after processing this verification information, the caseworker can decide to use collateral contacts to make a final determination. Additionally, the caseworker can also use collateral contacts to assist in expediting the verification process.
When making the initial contact with the collateral contacts, the caseworker should always identify herself by communicating her name, title and the name of the department or division she represents. The caseworker should only ask questions to the collateral contacts required to determine the household’s eligibility for a specific purpose. Further, the caseworker must document all the information reported by the collateral contact in the case record, including the contact person's name, title, phone number and relationship to the household.