Each state should make child support collection a priority by enacting support guidelines, providing adequate staff to pursue collections and using every means to track parents who are delinquent in their payments, according to the director of the national Office of Child Support Enforcement.
"I want all (absent) fathers identified and a support order issued, even if it's only $10 a week," said Wayne Stanton, in Salt Lake City to address the annual conference of the Western Interstate Child Support Enforcement Council Thursday and Friday."I don't care if he's young. We need to teach the consequences of having children out of wedlock. It ties the woman down; she's responsible for 18 years at least. Kids need to know that if they want to play around, responsibilities go with it."
Stanton said Utah is both strong and weak in child support collection.
"Utah is third in the country in recovery of AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) through child support," he told the Deseret News, "collecting 19.6 percent. But it used to be first."
The slippage probably comes, he said, because the Office of Recovery Services, which collects child support, has increased the number of non-AFDC cases it handles, a "positive and negative," said Stanton. "On the positive side, if you can catch people and strengthen their positions before they go on welfare, that's good."
Utah does not compare favorably in individual employee productivity, he said. Nationally each full-time employee handles about 359 cases and collects an average $134,609 a year in back child support payments. But Utah employees, with a much smaller caseload - 166 - average only $96,125 a year, putting Utah in 34th place.
Stanton urged states to notify credit bureaus of child support delinquencies. "If they haven't paid that obligation, I want people's plastic money stopped. Put a lien on their property - it's easy to do in most states, and it takes precedence over all other liens.
"Our very first responsibility ought to be child support," he said, and the ratio of support enforcement caseworkers should be the same as for AFDC case management. In Utah, the average AFDC caseload is 51.2. The child support enforcement caseload is 166.
"People have an inherent obligation to support the children they bring into the world," he said. "I don't feel sorry for people who've remarried. They already had obligations to meet, and if they can't meet those, they shouldn't start second families. It's not up to the taxpayer to support them. We need to tell them, `pay support or go to jail.' "
Stanton said a woman applying for AFDC should be required to list the child's father - or all possible fathers, if she doesn't know for sure. The state could then require paternity tests (the federal government pays 90 percent, the state 10 percent, with provisions to recover the cost from the "guilty party").
Once paternity is established, the Office of Child Support Enforcement in Washington, D.C., can "tie into every computer in the country for the purpose of establishing support collection," Stanton said. States don't have that access, but can get the information from his office.
"No support payment is one of the leading causes of welfare," Stanton said. "And we have expressed, through representatives in Washington, the belief that problems in welfare are destroying us, with dropout rates, despair, drugs . . .
"That's why child support collection has to be a first priority."