Potential deadbeats get crash course in parenting

A new program in the Clermont County domestic courts is hoped to be an answer to parents who are here today, gone tomorrow. A parenting class, targeted at fathers who don’t pay child support, is the latest attempt at finding ways to make parents more responsible – and more active – in the lives of their children.

“It’s a sort of educational program where, each week, they meet for an hour and a half with a facilitator from Beech Acres Parenting Center,” said Theresa Ellison, Lead Attorney for Clermont County Child Support Enforcement. “They talk about fatherhood issues and how child support works. Basically, they come up with a plan to stay involved in their child’s life, including child support. My theory is it helps them stay more involved with their families so they will want to pay support.”

Created and proposed by Judge Michael Voris of the Clermont Domestic Court, the program, said Ellison, is unique. There is currently nothing like it, at least in this part of the country.

“We try to explain the importance of their roles as fathers,” said Ellison. “They examine the roles their fathers played in their lives, and work on how to be a better father overall. They also do sessions on financial stuff, on how to work child support into their budget. This is a one-of-a-kind program in the area. Judge Voris designed and proposed it. He was looking for something new because he was tired of just sending people to jail all the time. This might be more positive.”

The program as proposed by Judge Voris seeks to achieve to broad aims: to keep parents supporting their children and to keep parents out of jail. In many cases, said Ellison, parents go to jail for non-support, but that isn’t always the best way to reform them. This program should, if successful, but allow the non-supporting parents to stay free, and therefore employed, but also show them the importance of taking that initiative to support their offspring.

“This is an alternative to putting them in jail where they may not learn a lesson,” said Ellison. “That may just make them more hostile and unwilling to pay support. They can volunteer to go or not – that’s part of what the judge will decide. We don’t offer it to anyone who has extremely high arrearages or whose case has been active for a long time. We target cases that are relatively new with younger children who will benefit more from the program.”

Six fathers have already completed the program, but there is still a lot to be learned before the program can be deemed successful. At six weeks, the program requires a fairly minimal commitment of in-class time (six total classes) and a fee of $75, which pays for half the cost of the program. The rest, said Ellison, is made up of donated time, work and facilities. The hope is, should it prove successful, that grants can be obtained to continue or expand the program in the future.

“We did have an attorney go for one evening of the classes to answer questions about child support,” said Ellison. “He thought they all seemed to be pretty positive about the program. We do have an associate professor who will do the final survey and collect data to see how the program worked out.”

Ellison said that ways to determine the effectiveness of the program are still being developed. Probably a first option to determine the overall effect on the non-supporting parent, said Ellison, may be to simply check with the children and custodial parent to see if there has been an improvement in support payments and social interaction.

“I think we’d like to investigate it,” said Ellison. “My primary concern is that they continue to pay child support, and a majority of them did. We have not received feedback from the mothers, but I’d like to do that. As the program grows, you’d like to see it include the family, but it’s just the fathers right now.”