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Montgomery County improves child support collections

The Montgomery County Child Support Enforcement Agency has increased its collection rate to 68 percent, notching the best improvement among Ohio’s large metro counties.

The agency won accolades from the state for increasing current collections by more than comparable counties, which lifted the rate to the highest level since the economic downturn.

The improvement is likely rooted in a strengthening economy, newer technology that makes it easier to find people who owe money and staffing realignments and tweaks to work-flow and case-management processes, said Sarah Fields, assistant director of child support enforcement with Montgomery County.

“We are always trying new pilot (programs) and new techniques to see how we can look at cases differently,” she said.

In fiscal year 2015, the child support agency collected 66.8 percent of current support payments due.

In the last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the agency’s collection rate improved by 1.2 percentage points. It was the best improvement among “metro counties” in the state, which handle larger case loads.

Montgomery County has about 55,000 cases. Five other counties have the metro designation: Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Franklin, Lucas and Summit counties. Montgomery County has the second-highest collection rate of those counties (Summit’s rate was 72.8 percent).

“The county has really made some strong and substantive changes that, combined with Ohio’s improving economy, have helped make our state a national leader in collection of child support,” said Jon Keeling, a spokesman with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

The Montgomery County child support agency collected nearly $1.2 million more than it did in the prior year. Total collections exceed $100 million.

In the last five-plus years, the agency’s approach to getting parents to pay what they owe has evolved to rely on both incentives and support as well as penalties, Fields said.

“For a long time, child support just used the stick,” she said. “But we have carrots and sticks and try to balance the uses of them.”

The agency works with parents who are struggling to meet their obligations by connecting them with employment, parenting, legal and social services, she said.

The county has a fatherhood program that helps dads with getting their licenses reinstated, negotiating a compromise or the elimination of past-due support and overcoming barriers related to criminal convictions.

The collection rates are higher in cases in which the parent receives these extra services, Fields said.

Most people want to pay what they owe, Fields said, but some are grappling with unemployment, underemployment, substance abuse or mental illness.

“People ashamed when they get behind,” she said. “We’re here to collect the support, and we’re not going to apologize for that, but we’re here to help you figure out how you can do that.”

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