Child support collections up under new program

The good news is that Butte County’s new way of collecting child support has brought in more money for children and resulted in fewer criminal prosecutions of their parents. And the bad news? Well, there is none.

On July 1, 2001, Butte County changed its historic way of collecting child support payments when it became one of the first 26 counties in California to form an independent Department of Child Support. Taking on a task formerly performed, not very successfully, by the District Attorney’s Office, the new department collects child support payments and passes them along to the custodial parents.

Sharon A. Stone, director of the new agency, is thrilled with the results her department has shown so far: $1,150,823 more in child support already collected in its first fiscal year. Because “deadbeat” parents and others who refuse to cooperate still must be turned over to the District Attorney’s Office, the department maintains a good working relationship with the DA’s Office.

Mike Ramsey, Butte County’s district attorney, credits Stone and her office with the increased collections. He explains that with a newer, more modern computer system and better resources, the new office can do more front-end enforcement, “reaching out and grabbing deadbeats before their children and payments are neglected.”

One goal of the new department is to be more user-friendly. Cris Navarro, an assistant to Stone, explains that, contrary to the stereotype of the heartless deadbeat dad, there are very few people who actually do not want to pay.

Stone says the department tries to meet with parents repeatedly to make sure they understand their responsibilities. If that doesn’t work, civil remedies are the next step. Bank accounts, driver’s licenses or tax returns can be seized, but that can interfere with a parent’s ability to make a living.

Another factor, Stone points out, is that “often, support and visitation issues are commingled in a parent’s mind, and it can be a vicious cycle where the child is the one who loses.” There is a new Outreach Program, which teaches about the need for emotional and financial support, plus a complaint resolution process. “In the past, child support agencies have been heavy handed, using threats to gain what they want. Instead, we can work together if the problem is caused by the financial status of the individual.” Stone stresses that it is important to give opportunities to pay child support based on true assets and the realistic ability to pay.

Now, criminal prosecution is a last resort. When the program was under the DA’s Office, many more criminal complaints were filed.

With all the progress made, child support collection in Butte County still has a ways to go, as just 46 percent of the $4,425,605 owed for the fiscal year ending June 2002 was actually brought in.