Webcams to Connect
By Stacey Wuertz, Program Manager, Kern County DCSS and Randy Dancer, Assistant Director, San Bernardino County DCSS
One of the challenges our customers sometimes face is the ability to come into an office and meet with a child support worker to get the assistance they need. Leveraging the use of web-cams has been a successful solution used by Kern and San Bernardino counties to provide our customers with better access to services.
The use of web-cams is an opportunity for child support professionals to connect with customers in a very personal way when geography and access would otherwise prevent a face-to-face interview.
In late 2014, the Kern County Department of Child Support Services partnered with the Kern County Sheriff Lerdo Detention Facility to create the “Incarcerated Parent Program” to bring child support services directly to parents. With a web-cam located directly on the detention center premises, inmates have face-to-face access to a child support professional.
Since its inception, the Incarcerated Parent Program has served over 3,000 parents who are physically prevented from coming into the office and who have challenges contacting the office by telephone. Through these interviews, the child support professional can quickly respond to the customer’s needs, gather essential information which would have been challenging to obtain otherwise, and build relationships with parents that last beyond their time behind bars. The child support professional can evaluate the situation and modify the order based on the most recent information. By having these conversations while incarcerated, parents are educated on the importance of reliable child support payments and how to successfully manage their case once they are released.
The challenge for San Bernardino County is meeting customer needs in remote areas. At over 20,000 square miles, it is the largest county in the United States. Some cities, such as Yucca Valley or Needles, are at the farthest ends of the county. Customers residing in the remote areas would have to travel up to three hours to get to a child support office. To provide services, child support professionals traveled to the remote locations a few times each month to see customers in the IV-A offices, known as the Transitional Assistance Department (TAD). These geographic challenges severely limited the amount of time customers could be assisted in a face-to-face interview.
In 2012, in partnership with TAD, San Bernardino County DCSS installed webcams in the most remote TAD locations in the county: Needles, Barstow, Twenty-Nine Palms, Yucca Valley and Adelanto. TAD provided an office in each of these locations where customers can meet privately with a child support professional via the webcam and receive the services they need.
Webcam interviews are handled in the same manner as walk-in customers. The child support office is notified when a customer is waiting to be seen in the TAD office, and the assigned child support professional will conduct the interview using the webcams. Internal processes are set up which enable customers to have documentation delivered to the child support office with the assistance of TAD staff. Documents such as Income and Expense Declarations and stipulations can even be printed in the TAD office for the customer to review and sign.
Since its inception, an average of 456 customers per year have utilized webcams to interact with child support. The response from customers has been positive in the ability to have more access to child support staff, without the need to travel long distances.
With this innovative partnership and webcam technology, both Kern and San Bernardino counties have helped customers overcome the barriers of time and distance, and allowed even the most remote customer full access to child support services. Webcams provide the ability to reach beyond the office walls and engage parents who may have been overlooked in the past.