In Georgia, some 60.7 percent of non-custodial parents are consistently current with their child-support payments. However, a new program of the Georgia Department of Human Services is designed to help the other 39.3 percent learn how to better support their children, both financially and emotionally.
Parent Accountability Court (PAC), also called Problem Solving Court, is sponsored by the GDHS Division of Child Support Services.
Richard Kringer, PAC Coordinator in Newton County, explained that the 12-month program seeks to remove the underlying issues that cause noncustodial parents to be chronic non-payers of child support. It provides an alternative to incarceration and helps non-custodial parents build stronger relationships with their children.
Through intense monitoring, judicial oversight and partnerships with community resources, PAC helps non-custodial parents become self-sufficient adults, Kringer explained. The first PAC program in Newton County started in January.
PAC partnerships include the PAC coordinator; a judge, which in Newton County is Judge Horace Johnson; the DCSS local office – DCSS field operations director Kristi Stone; a DCSS Attorney – DCSS special assistant to the attorney general Lee Moss; service providers; and the administrative offices of the courts – DCSS Covington office manager Jamie Farmer and DCSS state operations director Patricia Smith.
Kringer said the program works with parents who are in contempt of court or who have been jailed due to child support issues. Participants must go through a background check and cannot be violent offenders.
"What we do is we address their barriers on why they are not paying child support. The bottom line is to get them to start paying child support," Kringer said.
"It’s not a linear program. It’s more of a circular-type program where we look at the whole aspect of the participant. We don’t want them to be in the mindset of, ‘Let me go ahead and get a job so I can start paying my bill.’ We want them to have the mindset of, ‘Let me get employment, so I can go ahead and build a relationship with my children, so I can take care of their financial needs, their physical needs, their emotional needs and their spiritual needs.’"
Ronnie Freeman, 38, was one of two graduates of the first PAC program in Newton County. A graduation ceremony was held Oct. 25 at the Alcovy Judicial Circuit. Freeman, who runs his own business painting foreclosed homes, said the program helped him get himself together financially.
"Child support is a nonstop thing as far as you owing money. Regardless of whether you are working or you are incarcerated, it just keeps rolling," Freeman said.
"I was working, and I was arrested going to work. I was incarcerated, and Mr. Kringer came and talked to some of us. He picked me for the program, which got me out of jail and gave me the opportunity to continue my own business and get myself together so that I can have time to actually be able to make the payments."
PAC offers program participants such services as coaching/mentoring; job assistance/placement; literacy training; volunteer work opportunities; mental health support; clinical assessments; help with substance issues; and other services specific to each local area, Kringer said.
"What they (participants) are also doing is building up self-sufficiency so they can have a quality of life, themselves," Kringer said, "because sometimes you can have your foot on someone’s neck and applying just pressure and saying get the money out of your pocket, pay, pay, pay. … That could put such a burden on them when you are not addressing the barriers in their life of why they are not paying," Kringer said.
"Sometimes, people can have the false mentality of, they’re just all deadbeat parents, which is so far from the truth. It’s a matter of addressing their barriers so that they can start being self-sufficient and start paying child support."
Freeman explained that, at first, he was hesitant about participating in the program because he, as Kringer said, didn’t want to be seen as a deadbeat father.
"I named both of my kids. I saw them being born. I helped them with walking and talking," Freeman said.
"There are a lot of programs out there, but this program is more than just paying child support. They really get into your life and any kind of help that you need. … They will provide a lot of resources, and if they don’t have resources, they will go find resources. And that was an important part of helping me."
Freeman said the toughest thing about participating in the program was being honest.
"I’m an honest person, but even for me, it’s hard sometimes because being honest can be embarrassing sometimes. But, he’s (Mr. Kringer) such a good guy with integrity that I just told him the truth, and he just helped me deal with it and helped me work with everything," Freeman said.
"It can be embarrassing being on child support for someone who actually sees their kids. And that was the hardest thing I had to deal with."
Freeman added that what he took from the PAC program was structure, as far as showing him how to live and pay child support on time.
"In other programs, if you get behind or whatever, they don’t want to hear it. They just want to know where the money is at. And, you can’t do nothing in jail. That’s the bottom line," Freeman said.
"For them (PAC) to get you out of jail and give you the opportunity and so many choices and avenues to find employment, that’s one of the best things I got out of this whole thing — the structure of it and the resources, because a lot of people are just lost."
For more information about Parent Accountability Court, email PAC coordinator Richard Kringer at firstname.lastname@example.org.