When the public discusses child support, especially pertaining to our agency, it almost always means the monetary support a non-custodial parent pays to the child. When we discuss it internally, we like to broaden the definition to include family/parent engagement.
Children need a lot of things and having financial support to meet their basic needs is certainly at the top of the list. But they also need attention, guidance and love. When we discuss “child support,” we like to include that kind of support for a child.
August is national Child Support Awareness Month. Besides the public education system, child support is the nation’s largest program for children. There are 15 million cases nationwide, with $28 billion in annual collections. Here in Hamilton County, we worked more than 78,000 cases each month in 2016 and collected more than $128 million.
If you consider there is one mother, one father and at least one child per case, we know we are working with more than 234,000 people in our 78,000 cases. I am sure it is much higher because most cases have more than one child. Hamilton County has slightly more than 800,000 residents, so we know we are touching more than a third of those residents in our child support program.
That presents us with a wonderful opportunity. We are charged with collecting financial support on those cases. We know that those collections will be better if the non-custodial parent has a relationship with the child. We also know that child will be much better off if he or she has a solid, loving relationship with the non-custodial parent.
We have a partnership with Talbert House, which operates a Fatherhood Project focused on getting fathers engaged with their children and building a positive parental relationships. When we open a new child support case, we talk to the father (while not all of the non-custodial parents are fathers, it is primarily fathers who make up this group) about joining the group. It is not mandatory, but we hope they consider the offer and see the value family relationships, especially with their children.
Statistics show children who have guidance and love from two parents are more likely to have success with school and employment, while they are less likely to experience homelessness, incarceration, teen pregnancy and other social ills. Having both parents involved in a child’s life is extremely important to the development of a child. We recognize that and we want to do everything we can to encourage and support that. Throughout the agency, we have challenged ourselves to consider family engagements as a top priority in the delivery of our services.
Talbert House’s Fatherhood Project is one way to that end. The Fatherhood Project assists men in their efforts to be responsible, committed and nurturing dads. The Fatherhood Project helps dads strengthen their connection and involvement in the lives of their children by providing skill based classes, co-parenting and individual coaching, and fellowship support meetings. Additional services include legal, employment, and housing assistance.
We hope to add other fatherhood tools to our tool box in the future. Having two parents involved in a child’s life is just too important. Every child deserves to feel loved and connected to BOTH parents.