Problem Solving for Support Enforcement: Virginia’s Intensive Case Monitoring Program

Virginia’s Intensive Case Monitoring Program uses a unique collaboration between the juvenile courts, the Division of Child Support Enforcement, and various community agencies to overcome barriers to consistent compliance with child support orders, to reduce jail overcrowding, and to promote the involvement of noncustodial parents with their children.

Hon. A. Ellen White
Judge, Campbell County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court

Craig M. Burshem
Senior Assistant Attorney General

Scope of the Problem and Traditional Approach

The traditional approach to enforcement of a child support order involves the noncustodial parent appearing in court to show cause why he or she has failed to comply with the order. If the respondent is found in contempt of court, he or she is required to pay the support or be incarcerated for nonpayment. While such orders are sometimes effective in obtaining an immediate payment as ordered by the court, they are ineffective in obtaining long-term compliance and consistent monetary support for children and families. Obligors who become incarcerated for failure to pay support add to localities’ incarceration costs and contribute to the overcrowding problem in some jails. The same obligors may be seen repeatedly in court, with these enforcement actions dominating the courts’ support dockets.

It has been reported that noncustodial parents pay less than 60 percent of their current child support obligations in the United States, and approximately one-fourth of custodial parents who are owed child support receive no support at all (Legler, 2003: 6). Of the 2.5 million obligors who do not pay, experts say half are “deadbeat” and the other half are “dead-broke” (Sorenson, 1999; Zingraff, 2007: 2).

For many parents who do not pay support, there are myriad barriers to compliance, such as substance abuse or addiction, mental health issues, arrest records, lack of education and training, and extensive unemployment histories. The traditional approach to enforcement is insufficient for such individuals to become consistently compliant with payment of their child support. In addition, many noncompliant obligors have little to no involvement in their children’s lives, leaving these children without either the emotional or the monetary support they need.

The Value of a Problem-Solving Approach

Problem-solving courts, such as drug courts and mental health courts, have become well known and have proven effective in bringing together resources to address specific social issues. In 2004 the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators passed Resolution 22 supporting the use of problem-solving principles in all courts. These principles include a collaborative approach between the courts and treatment services, dedicated dockets for frequent monitoring of compliance by the courts with the use of rewards and sanctions, and case plans tailored to meet each individual litigant’s need for services.

History of Virginia's Problem

Virginia has adopted a problem-solving approach in child support enforcement cases through the implementation of the Intensive Case Monitoring Program (ICMP). In 2008 the Virginia General Assembly enacted legislation authorizing the Department of Social Services to establish pilot programs in four judicial districts. The pilot provided for intensive case monitoring for noncustodial parents referred to the program by the courts upon a contempt finding for failure to pay child support. The purposes of Virginia’s program are to reduce jail overcrowding, provide less costly enforcement alternatives to incarceration, maximize the potential for consistent child support payments by breaking the cycle of noncompliance, and promote the involvement of noncustodial parents in their children’s lives.

Following the success of the initial pilot, the use of ICMP has expanded across the state. At present, 17 courts in Virginia offer this program to litigants.

How Does ICMP Work?

Noncustodial parents facing incarceration for contempt for failure to pay their support obligations are referred by the court to be closely monitored by an intensive case manager, who helps identify barriers to compliance and, with the assistance of community partners, obtains assistance for the noncustodial parents in overcoming these barriers. To be eligible for participation in the program, an individual must reside in the geographic area served by the program, must be a legal U.S. resident, must not have a violent felony record, and must have an obligation for current child support. The court determines whether a litigant is eligible for ICMP and, if so, enters an order for participation. Generally, the case manager is present at the court hearing so that the participant has immediate contact and receives program orientation material. During the orientation, the individual is asked to identify the barriers to payment compliance so the ICMP case manager can help to remove or alleviate those barriers. A contract is also signed for program participation, setting forth the specific program requirements. An individualized plan is developed for each participant to become compliant with the child support obligation. The case manager makes referrals to community partners for employment and support services and monitors each participant’s compliance.

Case managers maintain contact with the community partners to track compliance, maintain and update the partner list for the locality, and report statistical information and results to the ICMP program coordinator. Case managers are employees of the district offices of the Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) serving each participating court. Case managers are critical to the success of ICMP. They must develop a rapport with each participant and must be effective coaches and cheerleaders while maintaining enough control to ensure participants’ success. In addition, they must be creative in finding services for participants’ needs and must develop strong relationships with community partners.

Stakeholders involved with the ICMP program include the juvenile and domestic relations district court judge and clerk’s office staff; local DCSE staff and legal counsel; the ICMP case manager; the local department of social services; local workforce development and employment service staff; any local fatherhood/parenting programs; and other community organizations. On the state level, there is an ICMP program coordinator employed by DCSE, who supervises and helps expand the program statewide. The coordinator provides technical assistance to the local DCSE offices monitoring and evaluating each local ICMP, identifies services and programs to enhance the program across the state, and fosters communication and the sharing of best practices among participating localities. The coordinator also analyzes program data and provides monthly statistical reports to DCSE and the participating courts. These reports track the number of participants and completion rates and provide information on compliance barriers, demographics, program compliance, and collections information.

Va Monitoring ProgramJudicial leadership is key in convening DCSE representatives and other community partners to obtain the initial commitment and then pursue the necessary steps for ICMP implementation. Generally, the clerk’s office is responsible for calendaring child support enforcement actions on dedicated dockets so the ICMP case manager can attend. Once in court, the judge makes a case-by-case determination of each respondent’s suitability for participation in the ICMP program and orders appropriate individuals to participate. The court may set specific requirements as a condition of participation, i.e., obtaining substance abuse treatment, participating in a parenting course, or applying for a certain number of jobs. The court schedules review hearings at appropriate intervals to monitor program compliance. At each review, the case manager updates the court on a participant’s compliance, and the court determines whether he or she should remain in the program. The court continues to monitor compliance until the participant establishes a consistent ability to comply with the support order. Participants who are not compliant may be removed from the program by the judge and incarcerated for contempt as deemed appropriate by the court.

In addition to DCSE providing the ICMP program coordinator at the state level, the local DCSE offices play an important role in the program. These offices hire and train the ICMP case managers, identify community partners and services, identify individuals who may be ICMP candidates, and initiate appropriate child support case actions. The attorneys providing legal services to DCSE likewise provide key assistance. They review court dockets in advance with the ICMP case managers to identify appropriate ICMP referrals. The DCSE attorneys ask the court for ICMP referrals in lieu of jail in appropriate cases and introduce evidence of ICMP progress during court review hearings.

Another key role is played by the community partners in each locality. These partners may be state and local governmental agencies, as well as nonprofit agencies. While the specific organizations vary from one community to another, it is critical to involve organizations specializing in job placement, job training, educational services, housing assistance, transportation, rehabilitation services, parenting and co-parenting education, mediation, substance abuse, and mental health services.

Barriers to Compliance

During ICMP orientation, participants answer questions that correlate to one of seven possible barriers identified in the chart above, which also reflects percentages of participants with these barriers based on ICMP’s 2011 report.

Not surprisingly, unemployment is the number-one barrier, but often the participant does not have a job because of other barriers, such as lack of education, difficulty Va Monitoring Programwith the English language, or substance abuse problems. Often, the case manager must spend a lot of one-on-one time with the participant to identify multiple barriers and work on a comprehensive plan to overcome them.

“Job search issues” can include a lack of knowledge about how to conduct a job search, respond during an interview, or write a resume. “Parenting issues” can include problems with child access or visitation or lack of information about appropriate parenting skills. “Health/Personal issues” can include medical issues or such problems as lack of transportation or lack of proper clothing for job interviews. “Support issues” can include such problems as lack of personal or financial support, or substance abuse, which is typically the most difficult barrier for ICMP case managers and community partners to address. “Prisoner reentry issues” include problems participants might have obtaining employment because of their criminal background. “Attitude problems” may include issues such as frustration, anger management, depression, or low self-esteem.

Participant Demographics

The vast majority of the participants are male, which mirrors the DCSE caseload as a whole. Almost two-thirds of the participants are between the ages of 25 and 40. It appears from the education chart that those with less education experience more difficulty in paying child support.

Results

ICMP has enrolled 979 participants since its inception.

  • 326 have graduated from the program. Participants graduate when the judge releases them from ICMP after they have complied with program requirements, obtained and kept employment for a period of time, and are paying their child support obligation.
  • 376 have been dropped from the program by the judge for noncompliance.
  • 277 are currently active.

Total ICMP collections through December 2011 are $3,087,560.

Total monthly average paid by all participants before and after ICMP enrollment shows a significant increase regardless of participant type.

Va Monitoring Program

Average monthly amount paid by active, graduated, or dropped participants before and after ICMP enrollment shows increased post-enrollment payments by all three participant types.

Va Monitoring Program

Projected collections if participants had not been in ICMP (based on average pre-program collection of $63 by all participant types multiplied by the number of participants each of the months) show that ICMP has dramatically increased collections.

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In addition to the standard programs that each participant is automatically referred to through the Virginia Employment Commission, Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other organizations, ICMP has paid for these services and training programs:

  • 1 barber’s license
  • 1 licensed practical nurse
  • 1 certified nursing assistant
  • 4 GEDs
  • 2 completed computer classes
  • 1 current enrollment in barber’s apprentice training
  • 1 current enrollment in fork-lift-operators certification training
  • 10 pairs of work boots purchased for participants employed on construction jobs
  • 17 sets of interview clothes upon completion of employment-preparedness-skills class

ICMP Success Stories from Case Managers

A participant who was very eager and enthusiastic about starting the ICMP program was able to find a job at a Sonic restaurant in Roanoke in January 2010 and is still employed there. He now has custody of his daughter and says that the parenting class he attended while participating in ICMP assisted him tremendously. He has paid off the arrearage balance on his case. Even though he is no longer an active ICMP participant, he continues to contact his case manager periodically just to say thanks for helping him turn things around.

Another participant was an older man with very little training. Through a referral to Goodwill Industries, he attended classes and training and obtained employment with Standard Parking, where he is still employed after 15 months. He recently paid off all the debt on his case.

A participant completed an air-conditioning-technician course from which he graduated with honors. He has perfect attendance at the Fatherhood Mentoring Initiative Program meetings, through which he made contacts that led to an interview with the Portsmouth Shipyard apprentice program. The interview resulted in the promise of a job placement at the beginning of this year.

One participant did not want to be in ICMP and would probably not have been there at all if his father had not provided transportation. After his case manager talked with him, encouraged him, and connected him with area resources, he found a job. He has been at the same job for almost two years and still calls from time to time to let his case manager know how much he appreciates her for believing in him.

Summary

Through the Intensive Case Monitoring Program, Virginia has helped noncustodial parents facing incarceration overcome the barriers that prevent them from paying child support. This program gives judges another tool to help parents and to avoid having to incarcerate them. It also gives participants a chance to support their children financially and be more fully involved in their children’s lives. Based on significantly increased child support collections from ICMP participants and the achievements many participants have attained in obtaining education, training, employment, and parenting skills, ICMP has been a great success. In fact, it has been such a success that Virginia plans to expand the program by adding more fatherhood resources and co-parenting activities for ICMP participants to further strengthen family relationships.