Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families

23Nov/150

Some States Are Trying to Find Better Ways of Ordering and Collecting Unpaid Child Support – The System is Still Broken

The child support system in this country is still broken. And for sure, that 'brokenness' is felt differently by the various parties involved.

Single parents - most often mothers - don't get the financial support they need to care for their child (or children). The other parent - typically fathers - have court-ordered (financial) child support obligations that they can't meet. Complicating matters more is that the little money the fathers do have they frequently prefer to use in ways they see as being in direct support of the child, including buying clothes, shoes, games and other toys, and even more generally doing activities with their children. In reality, however, for many men, the money they pay actually goes to the state, to recover the expenses they incur when the mother receives public assistance.

Furthermore, given the way many men are treated when they do get involved in the child support process, by each of the various parties involved (the public agency staff, the courts, etc.), we shouldn't be surprised so many of them stay away. Whether you or I would do the same, or perhaps handle things differently, isn't the point. The point is that the process for so many fathers is far more of a punitive and punishment-oriented process, with far less understanding and responsiveness to what so many fathers and mothers are dealing with every day in trying to meet the all around developmental needs of their children.

The bottom line, and one that more and more state and local governments and organizations are realizing, is that for many tens of thousands of people the current process doesn't work, and frequently undermines one parent's desire to have more consistent and substantive contact (not to mention relationship, something very much different from 'contact') with their children.

The brief NPR piece below gets at this dynamic a bit more, including some of the creative work being done between the child support administration in Maryland, the fatherhood programs at the Center for Urban Families in Baltimore, and the federal government.

I should also note that I found the title of this NPR piece offensive, Some States Are Cutting Poor Dads A Deal On Unpaid Child Support. I wouldn't call these innovative and experimental efforts some states are trying out as cutting the fathers some slack. I would call it waking up and realizing they have, for way too long, had the idea of strengthening families and supporting both mothers and fathers all wrong. I call that catching up with stupid, and finally realizing they have to do something different. This tinkering is usually good for the relatively few fathers and mothers involved, but the system is still - in the whole, and across this country - operating much more like it always has.

To the credit of the child support administration folks working in Maryland, however, and certainly the folks doing the fatherhood work in Baltimore and other parts of the state, they have been working to get at this for many years now.

My issue with the title is certainly more of an example of why I'm not a huge fan of NPR. The tone and substantive of their story-telling format tends to dumb down so many issues, and the presenters of the information couldn't be more disinterested in the content. Perhaps that's also because the stories I'm most interested in tend to have more impact on Black and Brown people, and the storytellers most often don't fit that profile. But... at least in this actual piece they get at some of the substantive dynamics behind the scapegoating and blaming of fathers our society does way too often.

You can listen to the full 4 and 1/2 minute report below.

Here's a brief excerpt...

When the state of Maryland wanted to reach dads who were behind on their child support payments, it started in the boarded-up blocks of West Baltimore, in neighborhoods marked by drugs, violence and unemployment.

In just four zip code areas, the state identified 4,642 people who owed more than $30 million in back child support. Most of that was "state-owed," meaning that rather than going to the child through the custodial parent, it's supposed to reimburse taxpayers for welfare paid to the child's mother.

This is a source of great resentment for many men, who say they want their money to go to their children. But most who owe it can't pay anyway, as they earn less than $10,000 a year.

"So even if we use taxpayer dollars to chase 'em down, and we catch 'em, right, and we go into their pockets, there's nothing in there," says Joe Jones of Baltimore's Center for Urban Families.

[Read the full article at NPR.]

8Mar/140

Freed Ex-Black Panther Marshall “Eddie” Conway on 44 Years in Prison & FBI Surveillance

Very thoughtful interview and perspectives shared by Marshall "Eddie" Conway after several decades of unjust incarceration.

Well worth the read and/or watching… including his reflections on his unjust imprisonment, the impact of incarceration on families and efforts to organize more humane developmental supports for inmates.