By Baljit Atwal
Acting Director, Stanislaus County DCSS
Imagine a child support agency partnering and collaborating with numerous agencies to assist non-custodial parents (NP’s) remove the barriers they face in paying reliable and consistent child support. That’s the vision we had in Stanislaus, which we are slowly turning into reality as we close out our final year of enrollment for the National Child Support Parent Employment Demonstration (CSPED) project. Locally known as PASS (Pathways To Self Sufficiency), this national demonstration project has changed the lives of many local families, due to the enhanced referral processes and connections established between Stanislaus County Department of Child Support Services (SCDCSS), the Stanislaus County Superior Court, the Stanislaus County Alliance Worknet (AWN – the local employment development agency), the Center for Human Services (CHS -a local non-profit serving youth and families), and the Haven Women’s Center (HWC- another local non-profit agency). Throughout the project, an unemployed NP’s journey looked a little like this:
Qualified unemployed (or underemployed) NP’s were provided enhanced child support services. At the same time, their dedicated Child Support Officer contacted both a job developer at AWN and the parenting class facilitator at CHS for following up with work skill assessments, work search and parenting classes . The Court Commissioner, being highly supportive of the project, worked closely with our Chief Attorney who both established a calendar specifically for PASS participants. Women’s Haven Center provided domestic violence awareness training to not only the child support staff, but also the partner staff assigned for PASS participants.
Enrollment into PASS began in October 2013. Being such a new concept, it took time for customers to agree to participate, as they were wary. Persistence of the child support staff, consistent outreach, and eventually, once the program was established, word of mouth within the community, all contributed in overcoming the initial wariness and reluctance of NP’s to join the program. Fast forward to the present, as of September 1st 2016, a total of 1,311 participants had enrolled. By design, half of these participants received extra services and therefore the full array of services available. Approximately 87% of the group has received some form of employment related support, with 46% of the group having become employed since enrolling. We learned that not all NP’s were so eager to join parenting classes, but about 29% still did attend.
With enrollment into the demonstration project ending, what do similar opportunities look like for our community? And how could other child support agencies offer similar services? Earlier this year, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) requested that each CSPED grantee write a Sustainability Plan to address post-grant services. In Stanislaus, we identified additional potential partners who could expand the reach of our services within the community. Not surprisingly, regardless of geographic location, each CSPED award grantee came up with very similar lists. These included the local IV-A agency, the local behavioral health services agency, the local probation department, local Veterans’ agencies, the supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) program, parent resource centers, local agencies offering immigration services, one-stop centers for victims of abuse, and agencies who assist former prisoners with transitioning back into society.
Understanding that child support rules and regulations remain the same and that no additional funding would be available, sustainability efforts will focus on maintaining the existing relationships while building new partnerships to be able to refer customers to specific services that appear to be needed in each individual case. In addition to referrals, SDCSS anticipates enhancing child support education and outreach throughout the community, as allowable. If interested in hearing more details about our sustainability planning, please contact me at BAtwal@stancodcss.org.
We have built momentum and solidified relationships with agencies by educating them on the services the Child Support program offers to families, while at the same time learning about the services they too offer. Like us, our existing partners wish to maintain the momentum, and therefore we are developing agreements for continued initiatives. At the same time, we look forward to better serving our shared customers by joining forces with new partners. Step by step, we are getting closer to providing an environment where families can obtain assistance on not only child support from us, but also some direction on whom to seek services from in order to address life issues that may be getting in their way of engaging with the child support program.