Procedural Justice Informed Alternatives to Contempt (PJAC) Grant

By Marie Girulat, Director, San Bernardino County DCSS

The State Department of Child Support Services was awarded the Procedural Justice Informed Alternatives to Contempt (PJAC) Demonstration Project Funding Opportunity from the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE). The 5-year grant will examine whether incorporating procedural justice principles into child support business practices increases reliable child support payments.

Some noncustodial parents (NCPs) often find the child support agency and its processes frustrating and difficult to navigate. That viewpoint can have a negative impact on compliance, which can lead to contempt proceedings for the NCP. The OCSE seeks to change the current misconceptions of child support and increase parents’ voluntary compliance with child support orders by increasing their trust and confidence in the child support agency and its processes.

The goal of PJAC is to increase reliable payments, reduce arrears, minimize the need for continued enforcement actions and sanctions, and reduce the inappropriate use of contempt guided by procedural justice principles.

Procedural justice is the perception that you are treated with respect and your concerns are taken seriously. The key elements of procedural justice are: Respect (you do not feel pushed around by people with more power than you), Understanding (of the process and your rights), Neutrality (all sides have a fair chance to bring out the facts), Helpfulness (perception that system players are interested in your situation), and Voice (opportunity to express your views). Previous research has shown that people are more likely to accept and comply with decisions if these principles are present.

The grant will target noncompliant parents in the Inland Empire Region (Riverside and San Bernardino Counties) scheduled for contempt action in which all readily available enforcement remedies have been exhausted. The grant requires enrollment of 3,000 NCPs, 1,500 in a treatment group and 1,500 in a control group.

The vision of the project is to have noncompliant parents partner with the Local Child Support Agencies (LCSA) to become more able and willing to provide reliable and sustainable support. The LCSAs will provide a comprehensive assessment of barriers and delivery of services to overcome the barriers as an alternative to contempt proceedings. The objectives are to implement an effective and cost-saving alternative to contempt proceedings that incorporates procedural justice principles; increase employability and employment for under/unemployed parents; increases overall family well-being, the quality of parental relationships, and the quality of the noncustodial parents’ relationship with their children; increase the speed, consistency, and compliance of child support payments; and integrate a government service provision model for those families eligible for child support, TANF, and SNAP, and other Human Services and work programs.

The next year will be spent designing the program, collaborating with community and county partners, developing the assessment tool and training on procedural justice principles.