STANISLAUS COUNTY — An order to pay child support doesn't help the kids unless the parent follows through with payments.
In Stanislaus County, a federally funded program will attempt to increase child support collections by helping noncustodial parents find steady employment.
The county's Department of Child Support Services will work with the Alliance Worknet on the five-year demonstration project supported by $2.32 million in federal funds. Officials hope that 750 parents will find a place in the work force, enabling them to provide support for their children.
Besides job assistance, participants could receive fatherhood training or other counseling to get them more involved with their children.
A third-party review of the project results will show if programs like this are a cost-effective way to assist one-parent households.
Tamara Thomas, director of child support services for the county, said a successful program could help stimulate the economy, keep children off public assistance and create a healthy environment in homes.
County Child Support Services has made strides in establishing support orders from absent fathers and mothers in recent years and received awards for doing so.
In the past year, it established child support orders in 94 percent of cases, up from 86 percent three years ago, earning the agency an award from the California Department of Child Support Services for most improved performance.
The agency collected more than $49 million for children in 2012, or $3.54 for every tax dollar spent on staff time and other administrative costs. Stanislaus is ranked ninth among the state's 58 counties in cost-
The county's "Stepping Up to the Plate" public serv-ice announcements at Modesto Nuts games, promoting fatherhood, received an excellence award from the National Child Support Enforcement Association.
Thomas said the department's 159-member staff has worked hard to find absent parents in cases in which paternity was in question. The agency relies on databases and trains case workers to follow the trail of absent parents through utility directories or cell phone information, Thomas said.
Reducing court costs
The agency has reduced court-related costs by offering people the chance to talk with staff about a child support agreement, Thomas said. "We have taken the approach of getting people into our office," she said. "We negotiate an outcome that works for us, the children and the parents and send it to the judge for approval."
Officials now are focused on increasing collection of monthly child support payments, which average $389 per child in Stanislaus County. Despite staff cuts and a troubled economy, the county has increased its collection rate to 63 percent, up from 59 percent the previous year, but still ranks in the bottom half of California counties.
The agency works to get parents to make payments in the first year of an order because it often means they continue with them, Thomas said. About 90 percent of those who owe child support are fathers.
The director believes another reason for the low collection rate is high unemployment in Stanislaus County.
For the pilot program, officials will choose out-of-work people with an employment history from the caseload of 31,000 adults who owe child support. The random selections will start sometime after May or June, Thomas said.
The program will provide assistance to overcome barriers to employment, such as prior drug use, a history of domestic violence or other issues that keep people from holding jobs. Program funds will be spent on gas cards or bus passes for participants who lack transportation, Thomas said.
The $2.32 million is supposed to pay for staff time and other program costs, but won't pay for subsidized wages for those who land jobs.
The Alliance Worknet will assess participants' job skills and develop an employment plan, which could include job training.
"Some may have essential skills that they need to package right or may need help with interview skills and job leads," said Jeff Rowe, director of Alliance Worknet. The alliance works with 425 employers to help fill job openings.
"In this economy, you are never going to find a business that guarantees to hire someone from this program, but we can get (participants) better prepared to compete in the labor market," Rowe said.
The alliance can use Workforce Investment Act funds to subsidize wages during on-the-job training. If a business is open to hiring interns, Rowe said, there are limited funds to pay interns who have classroom training but no work experience.
At the close of the 60-month project, an independent review will evaluate how many participants are working and making child support payments, compared with a control group of noncustodial parents who received no job assistance.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.
MODESTO CITY COUNCIL WATCH
The Modesto City Council voted Tuesday to:
Change the minimum supervisory experience required to become a police captain, from two years as a lieutenant to two years as a supervisor with at least one year as a lieutenant. Without the change, a city report said, only a limited number of internal candidates could apply for a position that soon will be open.
Approved a reorganization plan for Modesto Centre Plaza that includes the elimination of the positions of events and facility supervisors and administrative analyst and adding the position of center manager. A report states these changes will result in a savings of as much as $179,000 per year.
Awarded contracts worth $1.67 million over five years to several firms to provide analytical laboratory testing for the city's water and waste water.