Opinion: Did you ever think child support services could serve as an anti-poverty tool?

Meet “Mr D,” who said a child support-led work training program was a “life saver.”

Matthew de Lange – Getty

When Mr. D. wanted to leave his minimum-wage job for a career that would allow him to support himself and his children more easily, he ended up receiving help from an unexpected partner―the City’s child support program. 

For nearly 20 years, the New York City child support program has been connecting parents who pay child support – most often, fathers, approximately 94% of them Black and Latino – to employment services. Like many others, Mr. D. received two months of no-cost, intensive training that led first to a better paying job at a hotel and subsequently to a job at an events company and a substantial salary increase.

For Mr. D, that child support-led training program “was a lifesaver.”

“If it wasn’t for that program, I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself,” he added, asking to not use his full name to protect his privacy. 

At the New York City Department of Social Services – Human Resources Administration (DSS-HRA) Office of Child Support (OCSS) we are taking a human-centered approach and challenging prevalent stereotypes around the traditional functions of programs tasked with ensuring compliance with federal and state child support laws. In actuality, positive experiences with child support are more common than you might think. Every day, OCSS connects parents to jobs and job training, crucial services and supports, and guides parents toward sustainable child support agreements. Collectively, these little-known programs make a real difference by helping to reduce poverty across New York City.

Both research and years of direct experience have demonstrated that without an expansive anti-poverty approach, we will fall short of our fundamental goal: ensuring that children receive consistent financial and medical support. To accomplish this, we in child support must do everything we can to remove the barriers, like limited or lack of employment, child support debt, or even substance use disorders, that prevent parents from being able to pay their fair share.

We also recognize that to assist even more parents and children, we must embrace technology and move away from antiquated processes like copying sensitive personal documents and completing paper applications. That’s why we launched an app, called the NYC ACCESS HRA Child Support Mobile App, that allows parents to conveniently enroll in child support services, upload documents, make payments and more, right on their phone, freeing them up to spend more quality time with their kids and less time filling out forms.

This same app also simplifies the process for parents who pay child support. They can use the app to pay their support using a debit card, credit card, or even PayPal – without any additional fees – or respond to child support compliance actions. 

While developments like this have proven successful, we continue to build on our innovative solutions to help New Yorkers in need.  We are proud to announce that we will soon launch the Youth Model, an incredible new initiative in partnership with the Center for Justice Innovation. Through this initiative we will work with parents between the ages of 18 to 25 who want a child support order. Instead of requiring young people to enter the complicated family law system alone, we will provide both parents with help navigating the child support process and work closely with them to understand their needs and the needs of their child, including those that extend beyond the scope of child support. This will entail connecting fathers, mothers, and children with services that can best address their individual needs. 

This program recognizes that we are in a unique position to effectively intervene in these young parents’ lives – young parents who have young children – with the goal of offering ancillary services that will better position the family to achieve positive outcomes for children and help break the cycle of poverty.

When we developed the Youth Model and these other programs, we asked ourselves the same question: Will this make it easier for parents to support their children financially and otherwise?

We can’t be sure it works every time, but we’re going to keep trying. And we’re going to keep chipping away at every problem we can, so parents like Mr. D. can thrive, and lay a foundation for their children and our communities.

Frances Pardus-Abbadessa is executive deputy commissioner of the New York City Office of Child Support Services.

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