MOUNT VERNON — In the investment world, a 10 percent return is considered good. For business growth, 15 to 25 percent annually is in the rapid growth category. A triple-digit increase over four years is … well, it makes local officials happy.
The triple-digit number reflects the rate child support payments have increased since the inception of a partnership between Knox County Job & Family Services and the Knox County Sheriff's Office in 2015.
In a visit to the county commissioners on Thursday, Matthew Kurtz, director of KCJFS, credited several factors for the success the Child Support Services unit of KCJFS had in the past year:
- Custodial and noncustodial parents working together
- A good relationship with local judges and courts
- Employers who are prompt in withholding payment from an obligor's paycheck
- Case managers and support staff who monitor and enforce the county's 3,147 child support cases
- The partnership with the KCSO
Through the partnership, KCSO Deputies Doug Turpen and Chad Kennedy locate individuals who are non-compliant in paying child support; serve subpoenas, summons, and notices of hearings; locate and arrest individuals with outstanding warrants; and help individuals enrolled in the Seek Work program through CSS.
Before the collaboration, JFS completed these responsibilities by certified mail. The return mail and address changes led to delays and hearings being continued because involved individuals did not appear in court.
“We are thankful the sheriff has provided us two deputies,” said Kurtz. “Now, we get services to 99 percent of those folks and a much better eesponse rate … We are just thankful we have that collaboration.”
“The number of hearings has increased because we are getting them served,” said Turpen. “The seek work order now truly is an intervention to getting the child support.”
The program averages 270 to 300 individuals, but Turpen said the number is going down because 65 individuals are off the program due to compliance. Six of the participants got jobs at the Dollar Tree warehouse being built in Marengo.
In 2016, money collected through the Seek Work program totaled $112,586.95; in 2017, $234,425 was collected. Turpen said he anticipated between $274,000 and $279,000 this year.
“We've collected $211,000 this year so far,” he said. “Every year it's gone up significantly.
“The collection rate has increased 179 percent since we started.”
“It's cost-effective because we collect three times what we spend on a deputy's salary,” said Kurtz. “It helps in front of a judge too, being able to show a trail of what has been done.”
Kurtz added that the approach to collecting child support has shifted in the last five years. Formerly organized through prosecutors' offices, procedures were process-oriented with a view toward bringing people to justice.
“Now we approach it more holistically, trying to get more at what are the barriers [to paying child support,]” he said.