A Boone County judge plans to start a Child Support Court in order to help non-custodial parents to start paying child support.
Judge Kimberly Shaw is starting the court with Assistant Prosecutor Steve Gunn, Charles Stephenson of Powerhouse Community Development Corporation and Damian Dean of United Community Builders.
“This has been something I’ve wanted to start for some time now,” Shaw said in a press release. “By filing these cases as civil, working with parents to help them with job skills, parenting skills, life skills and needs such as getting a driver’s license back; this, to me, approaches back owed child support in a way that’s better for the children and our community.”
Stephen Gunn, the assistant prosecuting attorney, explained the new court, ” The new program will provide a different avenue, or additional avenue, to pursue when we are trying to collect child support for the children of Boone County. ”
This new program will allow cases in which one parent has not been providing child support to go into the civil justice system, instead of charging those individuals as criminals. ” Sometimes people are punished for breaking the law, but in a civil case they are actually called and tasked to remedy a situation where they are in some kind of default. ” Gunn said.
Gunn said that in the past, they didn’t have a lot of success in the past filing child support cases civilly, but he hopes with the new program, they can keep them out of the criminal justice system.
The court has partnered with Powerhouse Community Development Corporation and United Community Builders to create programs to assist these people who are struggling to pay child support. Gunn compared the program to treating a medical issue.
” Sometimes you have to treat the disease and not the symptoms in this case we are removing obstacles or barriers that prevent someone or them from providing adequate support for their child, ” Gunn said.
Participants in the court will be in the Fathers Committed to Families program, which is also available for mothers. Participants are given a goal 90 days after they enroll in the program to get a full or part-time job.
The Director of Powerhouse Community Development Corporation, Charles Stephenson, oversees the Fathers Committed to Families Program. The program is aimed at giving people the tools to get back on their feet and able to pay child support.
” Child support became the big issue because a lot of time it’s that bogeyman in the room, it that barrier that keeps families from coming together, ” Stephenson said.
Stephenson explained that they will work with each person in the program individually.
” We do a full evaluation to see the needs of these men, and we create a ISP, which is an individual service plan, ” Stephenson said. ” There is also a case manager with child support that will work directly with the individuals through this process. ”
Some other services such as substance abuse groups/ support , recovery support , parent education, anger management, child support guidance/assistance, employment assistance and job readiness skills, life skills and financial management are provided.
Court officials also expect the new court to help people on the public defender’s waitlist, which is over 700 cases, the release said. Some defendants have been waiting for an attorney for more than a year.
The District Defender of the Columbia Trial Office of the Public Defender System, Sarah Aplin , is hopeful that this new program will reduce the waitlist.
” My hope is that a lot of the clients that we would represent on criminal non-support charges will be diverted to that court which will be a better fit for them and their needs, ” Aplin said, ” and the ultimate goal of actually getting child support paid and families supported, rather than just shunting people through the criminal justice system, which isn’t a great means to achieve that end. ”
Aplin stated that the waitlist currently has 21 people in Boone County that have a pending charged for not paying child support. She mentioned those individuals that are charged with a felony for not paying child support could have to wait anywhere from six to nine months for a public defender, and those charged with a misdemeanor could have to wait a year or more.
Aplin didn’t know how many of those people would be eligible for the new program, but she said there could be a larger impact reducing the waitlist.
” These cases drag on a long time while people try to get things together and get back on their feet, and take care of all these other things like housing, employment, health, mental health, and also just family dynamic issues that can get in the way of being able to make those child support payments ” Aplin explained. ” For us, when we look at the impact, those cases last a lot longer than other types of cases, as they should because the need to, but then not having to have those cases lasting as long frees us up to handle other cases. ”