We have more than 81,000 active child support cases, each involving a mother, father and at least one child. If you do the math, that is at least 243,000 people we are assisting with child support, but we know the number is much higher.
I think financial support for children is crucial, and we take that responsibility seriously. But I want this agency to be more than a collection agency when it comes to child support.
For years, we have been involved, either leading or in support, in fatherhood initiatives aimed at strengthening the bond between fathers and children. We know from experience that strengthening the bond will lead to more consistent child support payments, but we also know the child will benefit in so many more ways when a father is deeply involved in his or her life.
My plan for 2016 is to step up our involvement in fatherhood initiatives. We will continue to support existing relationships we have, such as the one with Talbert House’s Fatherhood Project, but we are also exploring the idea of new initiatives or reviving some of the work we have done in the past.
In 2009, we won a National Association of Counties Innovation Award for our REAL (Responsible, Effective, Accountable, Loving) Dads program, which focused on strengthening the relationships between fathers paying child support and the children who received that support. REAL Dads helped eliminate barriers to employment and engagement with the child. The program provided counseling, job coaching and child support information to fathers who were at risk of failing to financially and emotionally support their children.
More than 250 fathers graduated from the REAL Dads program. At the time, those fathers supported more than 1,100 children and provided close to $350,000 in child support payments.
This is meaningful work for our agency. For most children to thrive, more than financial support is necessary. We helped to increase the quantity and quality of the father’s time and involvement with their children, increase the father’s parenting and life management skills and assist in getting access to and retaining employment.
Our Child Support program is probably the most diverse program we have, with participants crossing all social and economic boundaries. We are uniquely positioned to play a key role in any fatherhood movement taking root in our community.
Unfortunately, budget cuts resulted in the loss of REAL Dads and some of the other things we did around Fatherhood. But we are re-examining whether to revive those efforts, to launch new fatherhood programs, or to increase support of existing programs.
This is important work to the families and children we serve. We owe it to them.