Counties top state in child support collection

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Counties top state in child support collection

The Child Support Enforcement Agencies in Butler and Warren counties have been honored by the state for their performance in several key areas, including collecting a total of $98.3 million for children.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services ranked Butler County tops in overall performance, collecting from deadbeat parents and establishing paternity for the top metro counties with populations greater than 20,000. Warren County was first in the large county category — counties with populations between 9,001 and 19,999 — for collection of current support, total disbursement and establishing support orders.

In fiscal year 2013, the Butler County CSEA handled 25,251 cases and collected almost $60 million. Butler County had a 68.4 percent record for collecting past due support payments, according to state records, which translates to payments collected in 12,719 out of 18,608 delinquent cases. In Warren County, non-custodial parents paid almost $41 million in 11,412 child support collection cases.

Butler County also led the state in the number of deadbeat parents who are in prison with 45 inmates and Warren County had five felony non-support defendants imprisoned. Statewide there were 345 people jailed for failure to provide support for their children.

Butler County CSEA Executive Director Ray Pater said he has lost about a third of his staff through attrition over the past several years, but they have learned to capitalize on the use of technology, intelligently utilize and cross-train staff and create an “assembly line” way of handling cases. He said they divide up the workload by function rather than a start-to-finish approach, which allows cases to move forward even if staffers are absent.

“You try to look at the cases in a way that is the most strategic,” he said. “What cases are the most collectible, the low-hanging fruit, and what cases are going to be much more of a challenge to collect, so you know how to have your staff dispersed to work accordingly. The cases that are easy to collect, you don’t need a lot of case managers on those.”

As a last resort, after all attempts to collect have failed, Pater’s office will pass off a case to the prosecutor. A non-custodial parent who misses payments for 26 weeks out of a consecutive 104 weeks can be charged with felony nonsupport. Pater said people ask him what good it does to lock up someone, since they can’t pay support from prison.

“We are aggressive where we need to be,” he said. “There are people who have the ability to pay, they just don’t want to be responsible. Eventually, they have to be held accountable. We have worked that case absolutely every which way we can, and that is the absolute last resort.”

Assistant Prosecutor Michael Baker, who handles all of the felony nonsupport cases, said prison is also the last resort when a person is convicted of the fifth-degree felony. Judges usually sentence dead beats to probation, and Baker said they are given as many chances as possible before they are sent to prison.

“You can count on one hand people who have gone straight to prison on just a nonsupport case,” he said. “The rest have been on probation, and they haven’t gone to prison until they’ve violated their probation in one way or another.”

Judge Noah Powers runs the specialty felony nonsupport court, and over five years, 1,032 people have been through his program and paid just over $1 million. The program offers help with drug and alcohol issues, mental health issues, job training and the judge and his staff work with local employers to convince them to hire the convicted felons.

There is another program the court started for people to have their felony record erased, but no one has applied yet. Powers said that program is very stringent and most of the nonsupport parents already have criminal records, so they aren’t eligible anyway. The biggest thing he thinks his court does is teaches people how to be good, responsible parents.

“These people never had parents so they don’t know how to be parents,” he said. “A lot of times we literally have to go in there and teach them all those things. We help them get an education, we have to help them learn how to get a job, work ethic, keep a job, how to be a parent, all of those things. This program offers them all of those things and more.”

This isn’t the first time the Butler and Warren County CSEAs have been recognized by the state. Butler County has been named the top performing agency in metro counties for 11 straight years. The Warren County CSEA has been named the best agency for support establishment and cost effectiveness six times in the large county category.

Butler County Administrator Charlie Young, who oversees CSEA, lauded Pater and his staff.

“It’s not the first time, it’s just a consistent performance that they have been able to maintain,” he said. “They’ve done an incredible job.”

Prosecutor David Fornshell, who is responsible for the Warren County CSEA, said the 51 employees who work there do not have an easy job, but they handle it with professionalism.

“Nobody is going to be completely satisfied with the way child support is handled because you’re dealing with a very emotional topic in many instances,” he said. “There are people who always feel the system has not been fair to them. Obviously our goal is, anytime we get those kind of complaints, we objectively evaluate them to determine if we made a mistake and be extraordinarily responsive to that.”

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