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Phone calls yield child support results

BACKUS — In this electronic age, Linda Nye found a personal phone call still goes a long way to solving a problem.

She heads the Cass County child support collections division and is charged with collecting money from non-custodial parents to pay to custodial parents for their children’s care.

Over half (552) of the approximately 1,000 parents who owe child support in the county do make payments on time, she said. The rest, for a variety of reasons, either don’t pay or pay irregularly.

She determined about 145 of those not up to date on payments were either in jail or prison or a treatment program, so not currently available to be contacted.

She and her staff spoke by telephone to 57 people. They left messages for or did not get an answer at another 141 phones of people owing payments. Of those where they left a message, 31 called back.

When they could not reach people, they sent 160 letters to them. From that list, 13 called their office, but did not expect to make payments currently. Another 18 called back and did make arrangements to make payments.

The staff could not find current phone numbers for 93 or current addresses for 33. The post office returned 13 letters.

The result of their personal contact campaign is they have been able to collect $10,000 child support they would not otherwise have collected. This includes direct payments and arrangements with employers to subsequently withhold income for child support, Nye said.

The payments they received ranged from $5 to $1,000, she said.

She found a lot of people just don’t open their mail.

“If you don’t talk to us, we can’t help anybody,” Health, Human and Veterans Services Director Reno Wells said.

Nye found communicating by phone works. She said part of their effort was to educate people about the process for making payments. Some people may qualify for forgiveness, but they won’t know that if they can’t communicate with a child support staff person, Nye said.

They plan to make the personal contact program a permanent part of their future collections program.

Helen Williams, a newly hired county team leader charged with dealing with truancy, also outlined for the county board Tuesday her new approach to getting parents to understand their legal obligation to ensure their children get an education.

She and her staff will contact schools to try to make early intervention when children fail to attend school regularly.

A truant is an elementary age child who fails to attend school without a valid excuse three days a school year or a middle, junior high or senior high child who misses three or more class periods on three days.

The law presumes that it is the parent’s responsibility to ensure attendance at school for children age 11 and younger, Williams said. A parent can be charged with educational neglect.

Children older than elementary age can be charged with truancy in juvenile court.

Williams’ goal is to prevent both.

Her focus will be to inquire about what problem might exist in the family that causes children to miss school and to resolve those issues.

“Our purpose is to help families,” Wells said.

In other Health, Human and Veterans Services business before the county board Tuesday, Kim Minton reported an anonymous donor contributed $100 to the senior transportation program to take seniors to medical appointments.

Kathy Ramos, veterans services officer, reported Hackensack American Legion donated $300 to the similar volunteer driver veterans transportation