I remember when I divorced my first husband, the issue of child support came up in court. I had heard horror stories about unending conflict in child support issues. I wanted none of it. My ex had already told me he would never pay child support. I believed him. His attitude was if I wanted his support for our child I had to stay married to him. In a weird turn of events, after leaving my daughter temporarily with her paternal grandmother for care while I tested myself to see if I was even able to drive an 18-wheel truck cross-country, my daughter ended up being raised by her dad. Eventually, he re-married and she grew up in a yours, mine and ours family when they had a child together and she had already brought a child with her to the marriage. I didn’t want to interfere in what I considered a good situation for my daughter – mindful of the old biblical story and the baby the kind almost cut in half to satisfy two women both claiming the child as their own. Only recently, after over 40 years of believing this fantasy, my daughter told me it wasn’t such a good situation growing up there. My heart still grieves to know that.
This is a bit of a digression but not really because today I have learned that when children are taken by the state and placed in foster care, the original parents become liable for child support to cover the costs of their children being placed into foster care. It seems that everything this government does is stacked against families and intent on keeping people enslaved to poverty regardless of how hard they try to improve their lives. Even though I lost much in not raising my daughter, I do not regret forgoing the constant conflict of fighting for child support. I don’t know what the best answer is as regards responsibility – I suppose better human beings but sometimes the deck really is stacked against people in general. It is so sad.
Most families in the child protective services system also interact with the child support enforcement system. A potentially important effect of child support enforcement on the duration of out-of-home foster care placement. Requiring parents to pay support to offset the costs of foster care results in delays of a child’s reunification with a parent or other permanent placement. While this is a short-sighted and unintended effect, longer stays in foster care are expensive for taxpayers. Without a doubt, extended placements in foster care has consequences on a child’s well-being. When the policies and the fundamental objectives of public systems are viewed in limited perspective and inconsistently coordinated we all suffer.
The child protective services (CPS) system can be seen as a safety net of last resort. While removing children from their parents’ care is an extreme intervention, recent estimates suggest that in the US 6% of all children and 12% of black children will have experienced out-of-home care by the time they reach the age of 18. Most children and families with CPS involvement also interact with other social service systems that can have very different goals and models of administration and financing. This lack of coordination often leads to substantial, though unintended, negative consequences for both for the families involved and the taxpayers who pay for these services.
The scope of the child support enforcement system is generally limited to establishing and enforcing nonresident parents’ financial obligations to their children. In contrast, the CPS system is responsible for assuring child safety, permanency and well-being, so its scope and responsibilities extend well beyond financial resources. The scarcity of studies regarding CPS-child support interactions may reflect important differences in their policies and the goals of these programs or a limited recognition of the potential importance of their interaction, but research in this area has been hampered by the limited availability of relevant survey data and the technical challenges associated with the analysis of administrative data from separately managed systems.
Requiring parents to pay support results in a longer foster care spell and it definitely decreases the economic resources a separated parent needs to achieve the conditions CPS sets forth for reunification. This would indicate that this policy is fiscally counterproductive. And the reality is that there are low levels of collection and additional costs in seeking to enforce these child support payments.
Most children enter foster care due to neglect, rather than abuse, with low income an important risk factor for parents losing custody of their children. Safely and quickly reunifying families is an important priority and it will reduce both disruption to children and the public costs of foster care. I know personally how difficult it can be to be a single mother. When I rejected child support as a very young woman, I was overly confident about my ability to provide for my self and my child.
The truth is children living in single-parent families are over-represented in the CPS system. Child support can play a particularly critical role in the income packages of low-income single-parent families. Some evidence suggests that increased child support may reduce the risk of child welfare involvement. Historically, the government has often retained child support payments from low-income families receiving cash assistance to offset welfare costs, but in recent years policies have changed to allow more child support to be passed through to resident parents receiving assistance—making welfare and child support complements, rather than substitutes.
The change in policy to prioritize economic support to families over cost-recovery for government has not been extended to children in foster care. Federal guidance and state policies generally call for child support orders to offset government costs, rather than directly benefit children, when children are placed out of home. Federal policy calls for child support previously directed from nonresident to resident parents to be redirected to the state, and, for those that do not have orders, new orders are established for both pre-placement resident and nonresident parents to cover the costs of foster care incurred by the state.