The Catholic University of America


Law School Forum Explores Employment Assistance
for Parents in D.C. Child Support System


A frustrated judge may repeatedly order a parent to pay back child support, but if the negligent parent is unemployed, such orders carry little relief in the real world.
The problem is found everywhere and is especially widespread in Washington, D.C., where city agencies do not coordinate efforts to collect child support payments with programs to get parents the jobs that permit them to make such payments.
Other jurisdictions have had more success in designing a unified approach to the problem. That was the focus of “Strengthening the Link between Child Support and Employment Assistance: Model Programs and the D.C. Landscape,” a half-day discussion among experts hosted by the Columbus School of Law on June 15.
Participants included representatives from the D.C. government; D.C. Superior Court; city legal service, policy, and community organizations; and local work force development providers to discuss common goals and opportunities for building on existing resources to strengthen employment services for parents.
The first speaker of the afternoon was the Hon. Kristen Ruth, a recently retired district court judge from Wake County, Raleigh, N.C. For years, Judge Ruth presided over what she called “a problem-solving court,” relying more on education, persuasion, and when necessary, electronic monitoring devices such as ankle bracelets to convince parents to think seriously about their child support responsibilities.
“They’re in the underground economy, so we can’t withhold their wages,” Ruth noted.
As a starting junior judge, Ruth decided there had to be a better way than the threat of jail time to deal with in-arrears child support. She devised alternative approaches that turned out to be more effective over the long run, not to mention cheaper to taxpayers.
A recent study assessing the five years of her non-jail time approach showed a marked increase in the number of parents financially supporting their children.
“We’re all very pleased. We didn’t know what to expect five years later,” Ruth said.
Later speakers examined intensive case monitoring and job training programs for fathers and non-custodial parents as examples of more successful approaches.
The program’s sponsors included The Catholic University of America's Columbus Community Legal Services and Law and Public Policy Program, Bread for the City, D.C. Appleseed, The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, and Neighborhood Legal Services Program.
Professor Stacy Brustin, (left, at table) supervising attorney at the law school’s legal services clinic, served as moderator and organizer of the program.