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Stark County Approaches Child Support as a Parenting Issue

Rob Pierson
Stark County Job and Family Services

Stark County is getting a nearly $3 million federal grant to further shift its child-support collection efforts from punishment to training. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze has more.

The county is in the last year of a five-year grant that began the transformation here and at seven other places around the country. It works primarily with low-income, noncustodial parents who are delinquent in child support and includes both job and parenting classes.

Rob Pierson, who heads child support for the Stark County Department of Job and Family Services, says the training has largely replaced punishments that were counterproductive, such as jail time or loss of driver’s licenses.

 “Many of the participants in the program they’ll say that the job readiness piece gives them the ability to look for work and find employment, but the parenting piece gives them the desire.”

Pierson says as recently as two years ago, the county was suspending about 90 driver’s licenses a month, primarily of fathers who had fallen behind in child support. The number is down to two or three a month.

“If someone has the ability to pay but they’re not willing to pay, then we have a lot of hard enforcement tools that it’s appropriate to use even court and even the threat of jail time. But someone who doesn’t have the ability to pay, they’re in poverty themselves – low income of no income – taking their drivers’ licenses away was counterproductive.” 

 Pierson says two thirds of the roughly 500 parents who have enrolled in the job and parenting classes have found jobs. The number is higher -- 78 percent -- for those who completed the program. The county got a $2.2 million, five-year federal grant to launch the program and has been awarded $2.9 million more to expand it to include substance-abuse treatment and more parental involvement in children’s lives.