Grant allows Michigan, Muskegon County to test ways to improve child support collection by removing barriers to payment

LANSING, Mich. – The State of Michigan and Muskegon County will work together to increase financial support to children by removing barriers that may affect the ability of parents to pay child support.

 Michigan is one of six states to receive federal grants for demonstration projects intended to increase financial support to children.

 Michigan’s grant-funded project builds upon MDHHS’s highly successful Pathways to Potential that places caseworkers in community locations such as schools to help children and families remove barriers to success.

The MDHHS Office of Child Support and Muskegon County Friend of the Court are receiving $200,000 in fiscal year 2016 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families and up to $781,000 over five years to design and carry out the project. While the demonstration is occurring in Muskegon, it has the potential to lead to future improvements in child support collection statewide.

The Michigan Project is called PASS, or Procedural Actions to Self Sufficiency. PASS staff will be assigned to Pathways to Potential schools in all 12 school districts in Muskegon County. They will work with community partners that provide services such as job skills training, education and substance abuse treatment. Unemployment, lack of education and substance abuse problems are among the barriers for non-custodial parents who fall behind on child support payments.

“We know that children and families are stronger when children receive financial and moral support from both parents,” said Erin Frisch, director of the MDHHS Office of Child Support. “If we work with parents and remove barriers to payment, children are more likely to receive the financial support they need and deserve.”

Having staff assigned to schools will allow them to work with parents at a location they are more comfortable visiting than a courthouse – something the Muskegon County Friend of the Court has found through an existing program that places a staff member at a school.

“Engaging families in their communities, respecting cultural and family values and building positive relationships with parents will provide for more consistent child support payments and better outcomes for families,”said Eric Stevens, the Muskegon County Friend of the Court. “Additionally, it is extremely important that all parents have a voice and choice in developing long-term sustainable solutions for their families.”

Parents participating in PASS would otherwise be facing contempt of court proceedings for non-payment of child support. About 1,500 sets of parents will participate in the project from fiscal years 2018 to 2020. Planning will occur in fiscal year 2017.

Others states receiving the grants are Arizona, California, Georgia, Ohio and Virginia.

The demonstration projects in the six states seek to increase parents’ voluntary compliance with child support orders by increasing trust and confidence in the child support agency and its processes by promoting more open communication with parents

Grant recipients will use procedural justice practices, which involve fairness in the processes for resolving child support disputes and for determining appropriate child support payments – with the goal of collecting more support for children.

Michigan and other grantees will gather evidence to determine whether procedural justice practices improve reliable child support payments and impact other child support outcomes. They also will gather information to establish whether these approaches are more cost-effective than traditional contempt practices.

The goal is to increase reliable payments, reduce child support payment debts, minimize the need for continued enforcement actions and sanctions and reduce the use of contempt of court proceedings.

Michigan’s child support system ensures families receive the financial support they deserve, while focusing on a holistic approach to serving them. More than 800,000 families receive child support services from Michigan. Total statewide collections exceed $1.3 billion annually.