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Corralling More Deadbeat Dads

L.A. County, stung by poor ranking, cracks down on collections

September 01, 1996

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office, stung by criticism over its poor performance in collecting child support, has improved its program to find deadbeat dads and some delinquent moms and force them to pay up.

The changes were prompted by a survey, released last spring by the advocacy group Children Now, that ranked Los Angeles near the bottom among California counties in collecting child support.

The prime improvement is the program's computers, which now work properly in helping the staff find offending parents and locate their assets. The program collected a record $195 million in the fiscal year that ended July 1, the first year that it has been fully automated. Nearly $40 million was collected during May and June alone, and the trend is still upward.

Automation also helped the staff find more than 711,000 pieces of crucial information such as parents' Social Security numbers, legal names and last known addresses. Paternity was established in nearly 49,000 cases, a 91% increase over the previous year, and child support orders were established for more than 28,000 families, up nearly 23%.

Identification is the first step in the lengthy process of forcing delinquent parents to support their children. If caught, deadbeats face criminal charges and the threat of jail. They also rightly have to pay interest on their debts.

The volume is daunting. Los Angeles County is home to the bulk of the state's child support cases. The current caseload tops 650,000 families; of that number, more than 530,000 are single-parent families receiving public assistance, which can be offset by support payment collections.

Welfare cases are among the most challenging because few have child support court orders requiring the absent parent to pay a specific amount each month. The custodial parent, typically the mother, may not know the whereabouts of the absent father or his Social Security number. In some families, paternity has not been established and no child support can be collected.

The county is still unable to say how many deadbeat parents have actually been located, a serious deficiency but one that officials say is being remedied with new computer proramming.

The Children Now report, issued in May and based on data from previous years, identified frustrating delays and outright failures. The D.A.'s office woke up, adding more staff, solving technical problems and giving child support enforcement higher priority. That success cannot be discounted, but far too many youngsters still do not receive the support they so desperately need.

Parents have moral and legal obligations to provide for their children. When they don't, there should be consequences. In California, millions of irresponsible parents have evaded paying upward of $5 billion owed for family support. That is an outrage, and it represents a challenge that the district attorney's office is now taking steps to meet in Los Angeles County.

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