Program finds jobs for those owing child support
DOVER — Strafford County has a unique program for collecting back child support payments from non-custodial parents.
Instead of sending the offender to jail, leaving them with no way to pay back what they owe, members of the County Corrections Program help them find secure jobs where a portion of their wages can be garnished and used solely for child support.
William Britton, a regional supervision director for Strafford County Community Corrections, works directly with the men enrolled in the program. He says it works.
Since the program began in 2009, over $420,000 has gone to children who would not have seen the money otherwise.
“Sometimes they don’t have the tools, or know where to go,” Britton said of participants, adding that felons in particular have a hard time finding work. Britton has connections with a number of people in the area that specifically hire laborers with felony convictions on their records.
As part of the program, Britton has each enrolled member fill out 10 job applications a week until they find gainful employment. Then he works with them to make sure their pay is properly garnished. Some people take up to three years to get to that point, but they do because the threat of imprisonment remains real.
Carrie Lover Conway, a coordinator at Strafford County Criminal Justice Programming, said those who remain resistant and refuse to meaningfully participate in the Employability Program can be sent to jail.
“We are the enforcement,” Lover Conway said.
Judge Susan Ashley, who was key in establishing the program, said most people who owe child support do want to help their children, but keeping a job is difficult for them.
“The Employability Program supervises obligors to make sure they are being truthful with the court, but also provides supportive services to help obligors apply and interview for jobs. Sometimes, that extra support is all that a person needs to succeed,” Ashley said. “Obligors have told me that they feel better about themselves when they are able to support their children, and their increased self-esteem bodes well for continued job stability.”
Ashley said children don’t just benefit from the money. Having parents who can focus on the regular tasks of parenting rather than wasting energy litigating support payments helps reunite families.
Britton agreed, and said once child support is being routinely paid, non-custodial parents see their children more often, benefitting everyone involved.
The Employability Program is unique to Strafford County, but its model could be successful elsewhere in the state, Ashley said.
“I am confident the Strafford County Community Corrections staff, as well as the local partners at the Division of Child Support Services, would share their strategies with any other county interested in developing a program like this,” Ashley said.
Currently, the Eligibility Program has 35 enrolled members.