Local county child support enforcement agencies fell short of federal goals for the percentage of child support collected in 2012 as did 86 of Ohio’s 88 counties.
“The federal government grades states and counties on a curve where an 80 percent collection rate is a perfect score. It’s not the norm or the average,” Benjamin Johnson, deputy director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ Office of Communications said. “Ohio collects about 66.5 percent of child support owed, far better than the national average of 61 percent, and we’re working to increase the collection rate to 70 percent of all support owed.”
While no greater Dayton area county met the federal goal, all exceeded the national average. Warren County, in 2012, had the highest child support collection rate in the region at 73.98 percent, followed by Greene at 71.13 percent. Miami County earned a 65.97 percent collection rate and Montgomery County 65.45 percent.
The federal government has set 80 percent goals in three other categories: paternity and support establishment, along with arrears collections. In Fiscal Year 2012, Montgomery County established paternity for 963 children or in 89.63 percent of its cases, exceeding the federal goal and narrowly missing the standard for support establishment at 77.6 percent of the cases.
“Establishing paternity is the happy part of child support,” Fields said. “Most people are happy to learn they have a child. If anybody wants custody or visitation, they have to establish paternity first.”
Counties are awarded financial incentives based on how closely they align to the federal goals, and other criteria, such as how much money they spend to collect support payments or the amount of support collected on behalf of family receiving public assistance.
“Some counties can collect less (in child support than others) but earn higher incentives, if they meet other factors,” Johnson said.
State records show Montgomery County will receive more than $1.3 million in incentives in 2013; Warren County $479,160; Greene County $326,314 and Miami County $266,581.
Only two counties in Ohio earned a perfect score for child support collection, Delaware County in Central Ohio and Geauga County, in the northeastern part of the state.
“Having manageable caseloads has been key for us,” Joyce Bowens, dirctor of the Delaware County Child Support Enforcement Agency said.
Manageable caseloads, according to Bowens, is 450 to 500 cases per case manager. Beth Ann Schorr, director of the Warren County Child Support Enforcement Agency, said caseworkers there manage 1,200 to 1,800 cases each. In Greene County, the caseload is about 1,000 per caseworker and, in Montgomery County it’s 1,550.
“Anytime you have more staff to handle the work, results are going to improve,” Beth Rubin, director of the Greene County Department of Job and Family Services said. “Agency wide, we’ve cut staff by 40 percent since the recession. Child support was hit hard by that.”
Schorr said Warren County manges its caseloads by sorting out cases with the least chance of securing child support and, focusing on the ones with potential. Technology that better enables caseworkers to track people, bank accounts, changes of address and employment also help to make the larger caseloads more manageable, the directors said.
Under federal law, if a parent fails to pay child support the state can suspend his/her driver’s license, garnish wages, freeze bank accounts, seize assets, deny a passport and, in extreme cases, hold mom or dad criminally liable. The Delaware County agency has mailed 380 driver’s license suspension warning letters since January. That warning works, Bowens said.
“People call in, they make arrangements to pay,” said Bowens adding the agency has only suspended 147 driver’s licenses in 2013. “We’re trying to rebrand child support. We want people to know we’re here to work with them, not suspend their license or put them in jail.”
Schorr said Warren County gets better leverage with non-custodial parents by taking them to court, often to learn the reasons behind their failure to make child support payments. The agencies are working more closely with county workforce divisions, if lack of a job or under employment prevents a parent from making court-ordered support payments.
Counties also are taking advantage of the state’s financial institution database to identify non-custodial parents with money in the bank.
“The money is there. We can file paperwork to freeze the account and later take it,” Schorr said.
The Warren County Child Support Enforcement Agency captured $131,779 in child support payments using the database in 2012 and $68,480 in the first-half of 2013.