Child support is a significant source of income for millions of children in the U.S. Nationally, child support payments typically comprise about 40 percent of poor custodial families’ household income. In Milwaukee, where three in ten adults and over 40 percent of children live in poverty, child support plays a critical role in reducing the poverty rate and improving financial security for low-income families.
Child support collection also increases the involvement of noncustodial parents in children’s lives and improves family relationships. Studies have shown that fathers who pay child support are more likely to visit their child, to see their child more frequently, and affect how their child is raised. Research has also demonstrated that child support has a positive effect on academic achievement and improves cognitive development in children.
One of CSS’s most innovative projects is aimed at empowering fathers. It is currently the only child support agency in the U.S. to receive and administer “Pathways to Responsible Fatherhood,” a $2 million annual grant program from the federal government. The idea behind the project is to connect fathers to the lives of their children, as research shows that a community’s long-term outcomes improve when fathers are fully engaged and involved. The Pathways grant provides local fathers with the education, support, and resources necessary to assume their responsibilities as a parent. Fathers attend classes on topics such as responsible parenting, healthy marriage, and employment services. To date, the program has provided assistance to more than 6,000 fathers, including job training and employment services for over 1,100 fathers, with more than 500 fathers actually receiving a job placement.
CSS also offers “wraparound” supportive services related to substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence, and housing assistance to further assist fathers. CSS recently received notice from the federal government that it will receive $2 million annually for the next five years to continue and expand its Pathways initiatives.
CSS ingenuity continues in other ways as it strives to build a client-centered organization that transforms the way it collects child support. For example, as part of its effort to build a better call center, CSS began an overhaul of its call center operations in 2014 to reduce customer wait times and save taxpayer dollars. Already, wait times at the call center have been reduced by two to three minutes, and customer complaints have virtually disappeared.
Last year was also the first year of CSS’s pilot project called “Child Support in Your Neighborhood (CSYN)”. Bringing County government directly into local neighborhoods is another strategy being used by CSS to build relationships with customers and assist families and children who need the most help. SYN is comprised of a team of CSS staff who deliver child support services after hours at various locations in the community. The team visits libraries and other community-based locations to review cases for custodial and noncustodial parents. Over 200 people were helped by the CSYN team in 2014. CSS hopes to increase child support collections by at least 20 percent over the next three years.
The agency’s progress has been so dramatic that the Wisconsin Child Support Enforcement Association (WCSEA) awarded Milwaukee County with its “County of the Year” award in 2013 – the first time Milwaukee County had ever won that award. The National Child Support Enforcement Association (NCSEA) also recognized CSS’s progress by holding its 2015 annual conference in Milwaukee.
"Strong communities are founded on strong families," said County Executive Abele. "I am incredibly proud of the work that Child Support Services has done to empower families and improve outcomes for children. Doing everything we can to strengthen families is a moral imperative place on Milwaukee County, and CSS’ record more than speaks for itself. We continue to use the principles of innovation and efficient government to produce uniquely strong results."