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Collecting for the kids

Andy Ouriel • Dec 9, 2013 at 10:10 AM

The overall stigma of child support just naturally gives off bad vibes.

But here’s one positive takeaway from people making court-ordered payments.

Certain Erie County residents — individuals charged for the crime of “non-support” a term for when some have repeatedly failed to make child support payments — are collectively clearing their debts at record rates.

Officials have overseen almost $482,000 in child support payments made from criminal non-support individuals since 2009, according to a Register analysis of financial data obtained through a public records request.

Furthermore, through September, payments in 2013 have totaled about $152,000. The amount processed in nine months is greater than any other collection in a full year’s time.

“This is money that is going to the children,” said Jennifer Yingling, the non-support diversion officer for Erie County’s adult probation department.

“If an individual is paying child support, it directly benefits that child and that family”

Having a child support payment is not uncommon. But there is a small group of people who repeatedly failed to pay his or her obligation until it reached a criminal level called non-support.

Sometimes people need special intervention to ensure they make their payments, Yingling said.

Changing ways

Erie County officials didn’t keep detailed records of non-support payments before 2009.    

Case in point: Back then, officials grouped non-support probationers with sexual offenders, drug addicts and others committing serious misdemeanors or felonies into one massive caseload.

Plus nobody primarily dealt with non-support offenders, ensuring probationers made payments on a regular basis.

But since 2009, there has been at least one person constantly checking in with non-support offenders.

The person, mostly Yingling, even helps non-support individuals find jobs, track down rides and fill out resumes so they can pay off child support payments.

People paying at higher rates translates into them being more willing to cooperate with officials, Yingling said.

Others have also taken notice.

“Our agency has seen an increase in support payments from what we call our ‘worst of the worst’ who have exhausted the civil process,” said Trudy Riddle, a criminal non-support investigator for Erie County Job and Family Services. “While there are those that still do not financially support their children, the increase of those that now do by obtaining employment is on the rise”

At any one time, there are roughly 9,000 child support cases in Erie County.

Additionally, about 130 different probationers have been on the non-support caseload since November 2009.

In 2012, Job and Family Services processed $16 million in court-ordered child support payments, a 72 percent rate. That means there was an additional $6 million in child support payments owed from a year ago.

“It is my opinion that quite a few of these clients would have received incarceration instead of communitycontrol sanctions prior to the implementation of the non-support program,” said Chris Carroll, an attorney working for the Erie County public defender.

Carroll has represented about 50 people charged with felonies for non-support of defendants.

“It is my belief that the non-support program has been successful,” Carroll said. “It has reduced costly incarceration, collected significant money on support orders and allowed continued interaction between parent and child that would not occur if the parent was incarcerated”

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