MEDINA — County agencies are working in tandem to collect child support.
The Medina County Prosecutor’s Office, the sheriff’s office and Job and Family Services have teamed up for the Back on Track program established about a year ago.
When Prosecutor S. Forrest Thompson took office almost two years ago, he said he wanted to go after more people who didn’t pay child support. In 2016, he said,
12 people were indicted on nonsupport charges. That number jumped to 159 in 2017.
Thompson said through the Back on Track program, Job and Family Services works up a list of cases that could warrant a felony indictment — 23 weeks out of 104 weeks of nonsupport.
“The 23 weeks don’t have to be consecutive,” he said.
His office then will send these individuals a letter and invite them to a Back on Track meeting at a public library, Thompson said Tuesday.
At these meetings, they explain how much money the individuals owe in back child support and how they can pay it back.
“We can structure a payment plan,” Thompson said. “Some of them are quite substantial and are in arrears (for) 10 and 12 years of nonsupport and more. We attempt to coordinate this payment plan.”
If the individuals adhere to the payment plan, they can avoid prosecution.
Thompson said common pleas Judges Christopher J. Collier and Joyce V. Kimbler have pleaded with individuals to pay up.
Thompson said he’s seen positive results stemming from these meetings. His office sent out 59 letters last December to people facing felony charges for failing to pay child support. Of those, 28 are making regular payments.
Thompson said a second group of 34 letters went out in March, and
13 people are paying back support.
“If they adhere to that agreement, no felony is ever filed,” he said.
He said $746,332 has been collected in the last year in child support, much of it from the Back on Track program.
“We’re non-discriminatory,” he said. “It’s whatever case comes on the hit list. We’ve indicted women. We’ve indicted men. We’ve chased people in other counties and other states.”
In many cases, Thompson said, individuals in arrears are not working and not able to make payments.
In these cases, Job and Family Services can step in.
“Our case worker specializes in people looking for employment,” said Kimberley White, administrator with Job and Family Services’ child support enforcement division. “Our case worker is located at OhioMeansJobs.”
Since March, 12 people were sent to OhioMeansJobs seeking employment. White said six of them are holding down jobs.
“There are job fairs that are available,” White said. “There are virtual tours that are available. We’re sending letters to people (about job fairs). (Some of these) people are trying to turn their lives around.”
She said she asks them, “How can we get you on the right path, headed in the right direction, to secure payment for support and benefits for your family?”
White said others aren’t willing to work with her department.
Thompson said those individuals are subject to felony indictments.
White said her office deals with about 8,575 open child support cases on a monthly basis.
Because August is Child Support Awareness Month, she said Job and Family Services is offering a special deal to individuals who have had their driver’s license suspended.
They can get it reinstated if they pay one month’s child support, plus $1. They must continue to make payments to keep their license current.
Jeff Felton, director of Job and Family Services, said he has a child support enforcement contract with the sheriff’s office.
“We developed a contract with the sheriff’s office primarily to pick up folks with outstanding (child support) warrants,” he said. “The success of this program is they don’t do it from 9-5 or 8-4. They are doing it on holidays and weekends and evening hours that a lot of sheriff’s departments aren’t doing.”
Sheriff’s Lt. Matt Linscott, who has been assigned to the U.S. Marshal’s Violent Fugitive Task Force, finds many of the individuals wanted on warrants.
“He knows how to hunt,” sheriff’s Chief Deputy Ken Baca said.
“He’ll put together three or four warrants. They target the time when they think their success rate will be the greatest, when that individual will be home.”
Linscott said the best “picking time” is the night before Thanksgiving.
He said he often goes to someone’s home at 5 a.m. to pick them up.
“That’s what made it successful,” Baca said. “We’re not doing it 8-4.”
County Administrator Scott Miller said 66 percent of the cost to track down individuals in child support cases is reimbursed by the federal government.
With the success of the Back on Track program, other counties are calling for information, Miller said.
“It’s having an impact on child support payments,” he said.
The collaborative effort should be commended, Thompson said.
“I don’t think any one agency needs to take more credit than the other,” he said. “Other counties are trying to emulate what we’re trying to do. Medina County is a model.”