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May 29, 2014

Operation Work: An effort to transform child support across the nation

South Carolina Department of Social Services was awarded a multi-year grant for $2 million to participate in a pilot study that could revolutionize the way child support is handled across the country.

South Carolina is one of eight states that have been awarded a federal grant to test the extent to which targeted employment intervention with parents who have child support obligations can achieve positive results. In other words, the idea will be to remove barriers to non-custodial parents paying their child-support, rather than punishing them for failing to do so.

"We're going to give our noncustodial parents who have fallen behind in their child support payments every opportunity to get back and stay on track," said Gary Gamble, project manager for South Carolina's Child Support Non-custodial Parent Employment Demonstration Program, or CSPED.

Operation Work, as the CSPED program will be called in South Carolina, will enlist 1,500 non-custodial parents in three counties -- Charleston, Greenville and Horry -- for the study under the $2 million, five-year grant from the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement for the Administration for Children and Families. Parents participating in the program must be over 18, have a valid Social Security Number, live in one of the three counties and be unemployed or underemployed.

The South Carolina Department of Social Services' Integrated Child Support Services Division will provide enhanced intervention services by assigning a caseworker to serve as an intensive case manager and help guide the parents through the program.  The parents will also be referred to DSS' nonprofit partner in the study, the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families.

Fathers and Families, a ministry of the Sisters of Charity Foundation, has considerable successful experience in this area. The nonprofit will work with the parents to help them overcome barriers to their ability to support their families. Participants will experience a one-week intensive Job Readiness Boot Camp, and be enrolled in weekly group sessions addressing economic stability, parenting and healthy relationships.

The parents will receive training in the skills necessary to find employment, including resume preparation and job interviewing, placement and retention, as well as peer support and education in how to be better parents. The parents -- most of them fathers -- will be encouraged to re-engage with their families, and learn how to do so in a positive way.

The grant also provides financial assistance and administrative relief in a number of areas, contingent upon participants meeting certain goals, including:

  • Legal assistance with record expungement.
  • Forgiveness of a portion of back child support owed to the state.
  • Payment of GED filing fees.
  • Tutoring for the GED.
  • Assistance in opening a savings account.
  • Payment of any fee needed to reinstate their driver's license if it was revoked because of nonpayment of child support.
  • Tuition assistance for job training.

"DSS is pleased to partner with the Center for Fathers and Families in this expanded commitment to strengthening families, supporting fathers and bettering the lives of children," said Katie C. Morgan, head of Integrated Child Support Services Division.

"Operation Work provides an alternative to incarceration," said Pat Littlejohn, executive director of the Center for Fathers and Families. "In the past, it's all been about enforcement, enforcement, enforcement. But this is about believing that if you give somebody a chance to do the right thing, he or she will."

About the Integrated Child Support Services Division
The Integrated Child Support Services Division, formerly known as the Child Support Enforcement Division, is a division of the South Carolina Department of Social Services. It establishes paternity and enforces court-ordered child support, and seeks to ensure that all parents live up to their financial responsibilities in the raising of their children.
About the SC Center for Fathers and Families
A ministry of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina, the center supports six fatherhood programs in 12 communities across the state. It works with men to enable them to develop the means, knowledge, confidence and skills to become responsible fathers and co-parents. The center also promotes father-friendly policies and practices and strives to erase society's negative stereotypes of unwed, low-income dads.