The graduation of seven fathers serves as a jumping off point for Liberty Aldrich, director of the Center for Court Innovation's family and domestic violence programming, to discuss the Kings County Parent Support Program, which links non-custodial parents with needed services to increase child support payments and maintain healthy parent-child relationships.
The following is a transcript:
ROBERT V. WOLF: Hi, I'm Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. And today I'm talking with Liberty Aldrich, who is our director of domestic violence and family court Programs. Hi Liberty.
LIBERTY ALDRICH: Hi.
WOLF: We're talking today about the King's County Parent Support Program, which the Center for Court Innovation operates in collaboration with New York City Family Court and the city's Human Resources Administration. The Parent Support Program works closely with non-custodial parents who owe child support. Over the course of the program's first 17 months there have been about $140,000 in child support collected. Liberty and I recently had a chance to see a graduation of participants, so today I thought we would listen to some excerpts from that. To start off, Liberty, I thought maybe you could give an overview of what the King’s County Parent Support Program is.
LIBERTY: Sure, thanks. The Parent Support Program takes a problem-solving approach to address a problem that has bedeviled courts and parents and families for a long time, which is how can we address the persistent problem of non-payment of child support in a way that is both fair to the non-custodial parents, but also provides support to children. The Parent Support Program is open to any non-custodial parent in Brooklyn who is in arrears on their child support. Support magistrates, attorneys, or other folks can refer potential participants to the Parent Support Program and that program has a resource coordinator. The resource coordinator meets with the non-custodial dad, sees whether he's eligible for the program, sees what kind of services he needs in order to become better employed, better able to support his children, and if it's appropriate, she makes that recommendation to the support magistrate that that non-custodial dad be ordered to participate in those programs in lieu of more traditional sanctions. The court continues to monitor his compliance with the programs on a regular basis, bringing him back to court and checking in to see if, in fact, he's taking advantage of the services offered.
WOLF: I'm gathering that the program really is to support, as its name suggests. I thought maybe we could listen to some of the things we heard from the graduation. Here, in her welcoming remarks, Theodora Andreopoulos, the deputy borough chief of child support for the Brooklyn Family Court Division, pointed out that the Parent Support Program goes beyond focusing just on the parent's failures to actually trying to offer some concrete help.
THEODORA ANDREOPOULOS: Enforcement petitions are often viewed as proceedings which focus on a parent's failure to pay child support. However the Parent Support Program and the success of the graduates today has shown that enforcement petitions can be more than that. They can be an opportunity for a second chance to be given to a parent who wished to comply with the child support order but had not had the ability to do so in the past, because of his or her own personal circumstances.
WOLF: So maybe you can tell me what kind of personal circumstances might prevent a parent from being able to make child support payments.
ALDRICH: In a lot of the cases that we've had so far, and so far we've worked with over 120 non-custodial parents, the major issues are a history of incarceration, which makes it very difficult to find adequate employment, and under-employment. So folks who've lost their jobs, folks who were previously making a regular salary who are no longer able to sustain that level of income, and so they may be making ends meet for their personal needs by doing odd jobs, but they are unable to find adequate employment.
WOLF: Let's listen to what Devin Banton said about why he wasn't able to make his payments.
WOLF: What brought you to the program? What was the situation that got you here?
DEVIN BANTON: The situation was that you know, the economy got bad and I had my own vehicle, and I had an accident, twice. Not my fault, but because of the accident I had suffered the loss of T&LC license and then wasn't working, payment got backed up on me. So the child's mother decided to take me here.
WOLF: When I spoke to Support Magistrate Nicholas Palos he said the problems for some non-custodial parent often start with the child support order. Here's part of what he said.
NICHOLAS PALOS: A needs-based order for most of the people that we see in Brooklyn, and the way we calculate them, they're way beyond the means of the non-custodial parent.
WOLF: So what is a needs-based order?
PALOS: A needs-based order is if you don't have good information regarding the income of a parent, we have to then enter an order based upon the needs of a child. When you have nothing countering it—it's a default order for example, that's what we enter and these guys get these huge bills. And a lot of times they're never going to get out from underneath them unless we take some more proactive steps, and that's what we're looking to do.
WOLF: So Liberty, let me ask you if someone is facing high arrears because of an order that goes well beyond their ability to pay, how does the Parent Support Program help the parent turn the situation around?
ALDRICH: In two ways. The first is that we do an individualized assessment with each participant in the program and see what kind of services that we know are out there, would actually improve his chances of finding a good job that will allow him to support his children. The second point is that many of these folks are overwhelmed by the court process itself, so while they knew they weren't really able to make this payment, they felt so overwhelmed that they never came into court to ask for it to be reduced to reflect what their actual income was. So they let the payments continue to accumulate and they got further and further behind. So the second thing that we really do is work with them on understanding the legal process and understanding what they can do to make their payments more manageable in the future.
WOLF: Magistrate Palos also explained that the Parent Support Program doesn't just offer the parent services like job training, but also intensive supervision.
PALOS: It's intensive in court that they may be on the calendar for a while every week, but it's also a matter of carrots and sticks as well. I mean it's a matter of—if they're doing well, I pat them on the back and we move them along and we expand their court appearances out. If things aren't going, well we've used things such as contracting the amount of when you come to court, a couple of times sit in the back of the court room and just watch for a day, sort of the equivalent when I was a kid of standing in the corner. I've had them write essays, and about three guys we've actually referred for community service. The ultimate leverage, of course, is proceeding to the hearing on a willful violation and the potential for possibly recommending jail.
WOLF: So how important is this kind of supervision that the Parent Support Program offers?
ALDRICH: It is absolutely essential. That's really the key factor that distinguishes the Parent Support Program from any other program. We are combining the provision of services, making sure people know where they can get help - with the accountability to make sure they are taking advantage of those services. It's not okay for folks not to support their children. That can't be the outcome here. The outcome here has to be that it's a win for the non-custodial dad, but it's also a win for the kids. And the way that we ensure that is through the compliance reviews. By making sure that the non-custodial parents are actually applying for jobs, that they're actually participating in the programs, and that they're taking proactive steps to address their legal situation.
WOLF: How widespread is this model? Is this happening in other places, and what are the plans for carrying it forward?
ALDRICH: There are several jurisdictions around the country that are trying similar kinds of approaches in child support cases, and we think that it's very promising. We think that it's, as I said before, really can be a win for everybody, for the custodial parent who needs and has a right to get support, for the non-custodial parent, who can reestablish a relationship with their child, because often when they're not paying child support that causes difficulty in their relationship with their children, and for the child, obviously, who is able to have the support that they need. We're certainly hoping to replicate it in other jurisdictions in New York City, as well as work with other jurisdiction around the country who are interested in replicating this approach.
WOLF: I have to say my overall impression, just having been there for the graduation, was of this incredibly positive energy from the fathers speaking very positively about the program, and I thought maybe we could conclude just by hearing from the father we heard earlier, Devin Banton.
BANTON: Uou know, I really feel great about the program because at first I thought it would kill me.
WOLF: How so?
BANTON: Because you know, listening to people's experience that a, it's the ladies always win, and the judge gives you the burden, some amount to pay, but it was reasonable to me and the program was created in a way that it gives me a chance again, to see myself as a father because I was feeling less of myself, especially when I'm - you're a deadbeat dad. So I was encouraged that this program here give me a certificate and it really makes me feel as if I have achieved something great, so I'm just looking forward to just making my payments on time, and double up to catch up with some of the arrears that I owe.
WOLF: I'm Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation and I've been speaking with Liberty Aldrich, who is the director for the Center for Court Innovation's family and domestic violence programming, which includes the Parent Support Program, which is run in close collaboration with Brooklyn Family Court and the New York City Human Resources Administration. To find out more about the Parent Support Program or anything else we do at the Center for Court Innovation, you can visit our website www.courtinnovation.org, and you can listen to more New Thinking podcasts on our website or on iTunes. Thanks for listening.