March is National Women’s History Month and a good time to consider how women—and, more specifically, moms—are faring in today’s economy.
First, the good news: we are seeing an upward trend nationally in the number of newly hired employees for the last 7 months. The economy is moving in the right direction.
But the sobering news is that women have experienced substantial job loss and declining earnings. While men took the biggest employment hits during the recession, women’s employment has lagged behind during the recovery. The majority of women’s job losses have been in public sector employment. Overall, the poverty rate for custodial families has increased significantly in recent years. (Falling Behind, the Women’s Foundation of California, January 2012)
The economic climate plays a role in how states set child support guidelines. When states review their child support guidelines (every 4 years), they look at studies of child-rearing expenditures that vary by age and economic method. One is the USDA’s Expenditures on Children by Families: 2010 Annual Report.
The report shows that a middle-income family with a child born in 2010 can expect to spend about $226,920 for food, shelter and other necessities to raise that child over the next 17 years. That projection represents a 2 percent increase over 2009. The study also notes that family income affects child-rearing costs, as do costs of education beyond high school and geographic variation.
More custodial moms are saying they have lost their jobs or are working two and three jobs just to cover basic expenses. Many jobs are part-time, minimum-wage, and do not offer health insurance. When noncustodial parents can’t find work either, and stop paying reliable child support, family budgets face a perfect storm.
I understand that, up close and personal. For many years, I was that single mom raising two wonderful children by myself and working three part-time jobs. And many of you have been in the same boat, worried about how you will pay the rent, the electric bill, gas for the car, the children’s new shoes, the credit card bills—how you will stay afloat until child support payments start coming in.
Our mission is clear—to obtain reliable support for children. We have many powerful enforcement tools to collect child support when noncustodial parents have income, including wage withholding, bank account seizures, and driver’s license and passport suspensions. And for 70 percent of the cases in our caseload with support orders in place, these standard enforcement tools result in more than $24 billion in support income for families.
But our challenge is what to do when standard enforcement does not work. There is no question that our child support program is a balancing act, and that sometimes there simply is not enough money to go around. Family-centered child support services means, quite simply, going about our job of obtaining child support in a way that addresses the specific circumstances of the family in front of us. When the family needs the money, but the noncustodial parent is unemployed, we have to try something else, or the family will go without help. We need to work with both parents if we are to effectively serve real families in a time of economic need. “Sorry, we can’t help you” doesn’t put food on the table.
A child support professional recently emailed: “I have been working in child support for over a decade. It is good that there is more assistance for fathers than there used to be, but why is there no assistance for mothers? It seems we assume the only thing mothers need is child support; that only fathers need assistance on parenting. … There should be initiatives for both mother and father.”
Although there is no question that child support programs are struggling with budget cutbacks, there are many low-cost things we can do to do a better job connecting both parents to a range of needed community resources to help them keep their families afloat.
Are there brochures in the waiting room that tell moms and dads where to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) when they are broke? Do our websites direct parents to local VITA centers (see the EITC reminder in the March Child Support Report) that help working parents file for Earned Income Tax Credits? Do we refer unemployed mothers and fathers to the workforce one-stop in the community? Do we ask about the health care coverage of the parents, as well as the children?
I’d like to hear more from the child support community. How do you assist moms to get help beyond traditional child support enforcement? And what about the grandparents in your caseload who are raising grandchildren?
Please leave a comment on this blog.
Education, implementation and enforcement of medical child support orders (MCSO) are greatly needed within state DSS offices and family courts. The existing laws are comprehensive and easy to implement in order to initiate and maintain medical care for a child but are frequently not known or implemented by state DSS and family court officials.
Like the hub of a wheel, the child support agency could become the center/key agency used to assess individual’s strengths, assests, and needs and then capitalize on a network of “spoke” organizations for referrals to assist with meeting existing needs and also build on strengths. Look to the “Asset Building” approach for community development as a model.
“Is there more we can do to help moms?’
Yes enforce the orders using the available laws.
Instead of being so concerned about the feelings and circumstances of the deadbeats begin to worry about the feelings and plight of the abandoned children and what message they are sent. It is about time a civilized society stands up to this child neglect with real actions instead of phony occolades.
There are far too many laws that work against single moms. For instance, how can a single mom be imputed (estimated to have a cash value, although no money has been received or credited) and then not have child care come into play? It should be all or none. I ran into this all the time when I was a single parent. The imputed mom is responsible for making minimum wage but the order simply ignores that her children have to go somewhere while she does. This is by far the most frustrating law but there are many, many more and it seems like more are introduced each year. Oh AND how about getting single moms proper health insurance information, if the father carries it and doesn’t supply mom with the information; it’s just “oh well.” What a joke!
When moms are seeking assistance, everything, and I mean EVERYTHING needs to be considered when determining what kind of assistance we qualify for. It’s my understanding family law makers didn’t pass basic math in school. As a single mother I pay a substantial amount for childcare because my 30k/annual income for two hardly qualifies as low income. Pivotal finances such as rent, transportation to work, and in my case, transportation costs for my son’s visitation, aren’t taken into account. We’re put through the ringer trying to collect child support we haven’t received yet, it’s considered income? According to a computed system I should be able to afford standard childcare in California but in all reality I can’t when trying to meet the basic needs of raising a child without any support. We talk about the best interest of the child but how do these laws protect that when working single mothers are less than a paycheck away from ending up on the streets?
My son’s father lives in Florida and my son and I live in Georgia. His father has made 13 payments and my son is 6 years old. His father CHOOSES not to work and if he does it is under the table. Also, his license is suspended already (not due to child support enforcement). My son is disabled and needs support, more than I can give. What in the world am I supposed to do with this? I’ve tried all I know and I’m coming up empty.
Also, I agree with the comments before mine. We have to provide our income yet nothing is counted to help bring the ‘actual’ income down. We have to provide for a child or children, by ourselves while trying to keep a job and for a lot of us, family help isn’t an option. Why does our ‘mandatory’ spending get taken into account? They aren’t things our children can live without.
The changes needed by single parents will have to occur outside the ACF arena, but with guidance from ACF, because policy governing families must be overhauled. ACF would be the starting point. For instance, inequality in pay. While we’ve had that law on the books for 49 years, it is not enforced across the board. It is the ‘law’ of the land; it is not the ‘practice’. Pay and hiring discrimination are rampant against single parents. So labor laws and enforcement mechanisms would have to be strengthened. Legal services must be expanded for single parents to cover a variety of issues: housing, salary/work conditions, school, the IEP format, McKinney-Vento enforcement, discrimination in the workplace, health access, and more. ACF could create a list of minimum (read that ‘livable’) standards and establish benchmarks which are required OF THE SYSTEM for single parents in order to raise their children with any acceptable modicum of standard of living. That could then be applied to the various agencies and policies mentioned. This will require a fair amount of advocacy between agencies affected by policies which affect families. No one agency, no one policy, no single law is equipped to singularly solve this difficult and layered problem. In establishing any benchmarks, it must be understood that these will not, in any way, be used in a punitive manner against single parents. And once these guidelines were established, courts and social service agencies would have to work together to bring about the necessary changes which would create the social environment needed to back up these families and see to it that they are treated equally to two-parent families in all areas of society so that children in either setting have equal access to positive life chances.
Communication is key between the FOC advocate and the parents of the clients they are supposed to serve. Recognition that without the help of the FOC these little ones are doing without. Recognition of timely responses, and the fact that all these faces are people in need of help to meet their activities of daily living. An overhaul of the system is needed to take into account of the needs now that we are in different times than when the system was first implemented. What happens when the ones we look to for assistance are to burnt from the same need being voiced over and over again. The children suffer. This is where reality checks of what it takes to run a household today vs when child support enfocement laws originally went in place. What can we do to change that?