By helping the non-custodial parent, we’re helping children and families, we’re helping kids reach their full potential. We’ve learned that once the barriers are removed, parents tend to reach out to the other parent to establish a connection with their children.
Andree Tenemas-Chavez helps non-custodial parents address challenges paying child support, but her work uplifts whole families. She says of the work, “By helping the non-custodial parent, we’re helping children and families, we’re helping kids reach their full potential. We’ve learned that once the barriers are removed, parents tend to reach out to the other parent to establish a connection with their children.”
Andree is the citywide program manager for the Parent Support Program, which she helped launch when she joined our organization in December 2010. Rather than punishing parents for non-payment of child support, the program, which began in Kings County Family Court and has expanded to the Bronx and Manhattan, focuses on addressing systemic problems that bring participants to court. As the program continues to expand, Andree feels “fortunate to be a part of this journey.” Andree began her career at the Children’s Aid Society, working with teens and pre-teens around issues of truancy. “When you work with children you are working with the whole family,” she explains. “I saw children who were not attending school not because they didn’t want to but due to other barriers—with learning, family support, issues that present with poverty. So I connected children with services and support while also working with parents to help them support their kids. Having a direct connection with the people I’m working with is so important. This work has ripple effects.”
Andree was drawn to work at the Center because of “the diverse approach to problem solving, the commitment to community building, and changing the old ways of operating a criminal justice system that has adversely affected people of color and the poor.” In her current position, Andree works with non-custodial parents to address barriers preventing them from contributing to supporting their children. She emphasizes that it’s not just about financial support, but emotional support as well.
Andree is motivated by her love of community work. “To give voice to underserved communities and to help parents be able to contribute to supporting and caring for their children you are contributing to an emotionally sound community, and you’re investing in the future.”
Andree says that many of the issues she sees stem from poverty and lack of access. “The identified issue is child support, but poverty comes with its own set of challenges. We have to realize that yes, we are addressing this presenting problem of not paying child support, but that there are other services that parents need in order to care for their children—continuing education, food and housing assistance, health care, and simple things like reduced-fare Metro cards.”
To give voice to underserved communities and to help parents be able to contribute to supporting and caring for their children you are contributing to an emotionally sound community, and you’re investing in the future.
“For example, a barrier to meeting child support payments may be lack of employment. We then work with that parent and partner organizations to help remove that barrier, through job training, employment services, whatever they need. Parents have an array of resources and support once enrolled in our program.” Andree and the Parent Support Program team work with people to create a child support plan that is manageable. “We don’t want them falling behind again and having a lien on their driver’s license or on their bank account.”
Andree is committed to working with parents and giving them space to voice their stories. “I love this work with people and connecting with them on a human level. I’m privileged to hear all of their stories and issues that they are facing.”
But it can be challenging too. “Sometimes parents come with their own ideas that you have to respect. You have to meet them where they are at and accept that there are times that things may move slowly. Change may not happen overnight.
“It’s rewarding to have parents say they were able to find their voice and tell their side of the story, that they received the help that they needed because the court process can be overwhelming and confusing and emotions are always involved when kids are involved. We’re able to provide support and services so they can tell their story to the court and oftentimes it’s not that they don’t want to pay child support, it’s that they can’t. It’s wonderful to see parents change from despair to hope.”
“Transforming justice together means facilitating a fair legal process for all. It means addressing underlying issues that led to the situation like trauma, generational poverty, and a lack of caregivers. It means reducing incarceration, allowing communities to find their own voice and working jointly to foster meaningful and sustainable change.”
Outside of work, Andree enjoys spending time with family and friends—going out to eat, seeing movies together, and visiting New York’s many museums. “I love to tell jokes and make my family laugh, although I often find myself having to explain the joke!” Andree is looking forward to being able to travel more in the future as well.
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