The Klamath Tribes Child Support Enforcement Program provides child support enforcement services to tribal members. Services include locating custodial and noncustodial parents, establishing paternity, obtaining and enforcing child support orders, and providing referrals for family-centered services.
Child Support Enforcement Program
Program Running Length: 2008 – Present
Location: The Klamath Tribes are headquartered in Chiloquin, Oregon.
Land Characteristics: The Klamath Tribes maintain their administrative offices in Chiloquin, Oregon, in the Klamath Basin region of south-central Oregon.The Klamath Tribes lost their trust lands as a result of federal termination in 1954. Although federal recognition was restored in 1986, the tribes’ lands were not returned. Today, the Klamath Tribes provide services throughout Klamath County.
Population: The Klamath Tribes are a confederation of three tribes: the Klamaths, the Modocs, and the Yahooskin Paiute peoples. Today, the Klamath Tribes have approximately 4,400 enrolled members. Most of the Klamath Tribes’ members live in Klamath Falls, where they account for between four and five percent of the city’s population.
Problem to Be Addressed
Before the creation of the Child Support Enforcement Program, many eligible families were not receiving child support payments.
The Child Support Enforcement Program serves Klamath tribal members who are not receiving the child support they are legally entitled to receive.
Prior to the creation of the Child Support Enforcement Program, the Klamath Tribes’ Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) office noted that many tribal members who were receiving temporary assistance were eligible for child support but did not have child support orders. In effect, the TANF program was providing financial assistance that should have been met through child support payments. The Child Support Enforcement Program was created in an effort to promote child support payments and recover some of TANF’s expenditures.
The Child Support Enforcement Program was preceded by a two-year planning period. The tribes hired a program manager who worked with the tribal attorney to draft a comprehensive plan for submission to the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement. Once the plan was approved, the Child Support Enforcement Program was eligible for federal reimbursement of 90 percent of program costs for the two year planning period.
During the planning period, the program manager conducted site visits to observe other tribal child support enforcement programs and to ask for guidance in designing the Klamath program. In addition, the program manager developed forms and informational materials, which are available online (http://klamathtribalcourts.com/child-support/). As the program grew, it added a case manager, a case worker, and an office manager. With a larger staff and a more formalized protocol for case processing, the program staff started to see an increase child support payments.
Program Goals and Objectives
The Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program aims to help tribal families establish and enforce child support orders and to increase child support payments to tribal families. By promoting child support, the program enhances financial stability for tribal families.
The program also seeks to help non-custodial fathers become more involved in their children’s lives. According to program staff, non-custodial fathers are often denied time with their children, especially when the father is behind in child support. Program staff discuss these issues with parents and refer them to parenting programs that can help to promote healthier family relationships and fatherhood programs that can help dads learn new ways to spend time with their kids.
The Child Support Enforcement Program provides a variety of services designed to assist Klamath tribal families with their child support cases. Services include: locating custodial and noncustodial parents, establishing paternity, obtaining and enforcing child support orders, and providing family-centered services such as basic employment assistance and referrals for housing.
- Locating Noncustodial Parents: Program staff use a variety of methods to locate non-custodial parents, including: searching for employment information on the internet, seeking assistance from other agencies, and networking with members of the community. Program staff also search for non-custodial parents in the local jail—the program manager cross-references the jail’s daily list of inmates with the names of non-custodial parents the program is trying to locate. When a non-custodial parent appears on the jail list, the program manager visits the jail and serves the child support order.
- Locating the non-custodial parent can make it possible for the custodial parent to receive continuous and uninterrupted child support payments through wage garnishment or other asset seizure. Wage information from the non-custodial parent’s employer can also be important for setting the correct amount of child support. The Child Support Enforcement Program can help find children in parental kidnapping or child custody cases, including cases in which the custodial parent has hidden the child in violation of a visitation order.
- Paternity Testing: In some cases, a paternity test is required to establish legal fatherhood. The Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program provides paternity testing through LabCorp, a North Carolina-based company. Klamath staff often visit tribal members in their homes or in the local jail to collect the necessary testing samples. Using the test results, the Child Support Enforcement Program can help clients make paternity changes to their children’s birth certificates by submitting the necessary paperwork to the State of Oregon. The State may opt to waive the $30 birth certificate amendment fee if the paperwork is sent in by the tribe.
- Establishing Child Support Orders: The Child Support Enforcement Program can help establish child support orders for eligible families living in Klamath County. To establish an order, a custodial parent submits an application to the tribal Child Support Enforcement office and provides information about both parents and the children for whom support is being sought. If the applicant is eligible for tribal child support services, a case is opened with the Klamath Child Support Enforcement program. The same process can be used to re-open a child support case or have a case transferred from another tribal or state agency.
The Child Support Enforcement Program can also provide certain services to individuals who are not eligible to open a child support case. For example, if a non-custodial parent lives or works in another state, or is enrolled in another tribe, the program can assist the custodial parent in seeking child support enforcement services from the appropriate agency. If the non-custodial parent belongs to a tribe that has a Child Support Enforcement program of its own, the Klamath Child Support Enforcement will collaborate with that tribe’s Child Support Enforcement to establish a child support order on the applicant’s behalf.
- Serving Orders: The Klamath Child Support Enforcement’s program manager serves child support orders upon non-custodial parents or sends the orders by mail. Once served, parties have 30 days to dispute the order. If the non-custodial parent does not dispute the order, he/she must begin making regular child support payments, as specified in the child support order, to the tribal Child Support Enforcement office.
- Collecting Payments: The Child Support Enforcement Program processes child support payments made by non-custodial parents and distributes them to the custodial parent. If necessary, the program can garnish wages directly from the non-custodial parent’s paycheck. The program can also garnish up to half of the non-custodial parent’s per capita payments, which the tribe pays annually from casino proceeds. The tribal Child Support Enforcement program records all transactions including payments made by noncustodial parents, payments missed, and reimbursements issued.
- Modifying Orders: When a non-custodial parent has a substantial change of circumstances, such as the loss of a job or a decrease in work hours, he/she may request a modification of the child support order. The Child Support Enforcement Program tracks employment and, upon request for modification, adjusts the amount of child support due each month when the non-custodial parent’s income changes.
- Collecting Arrears: The Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program has the authority to collect child support arrears. Non-custodial parents who owe back support must make their regular monthly payment plus an extra 20 percent toward arrears. However, the total monthly payment, including any back support, may not exceed 50 percent of the non-custodial parent’s total montly income. Arrears may also be owed to a government agency if the custodial parent received financial assistance while eligible for, but not receiving, child support. When the non-custodial parent begins paying child support, a percentage of the payments may be allocated to reimburse the appropriate state or tribal agency for the benefits it paid to the custodial parent. If a custodial parent wishes to relieve the non-custodial parent of arrears, he/she can ask the Child Support Enforcement Program to reduce or eliminate the arrears. The Child Support Enforcement Program can grant these requests unless the arrears are owed to TANF.
- Supportive Services for Families: The Child Support Enforcement Program provides basic employment assistance to help unemployed non-custodial parents find employment. For example, the tribe’s Education and Employment Center has a program to fill seasonal tree trimming and firefighting positions. The program sends pamphlets about employment services to their unemployed participants. The program also tries to connect clients with agencies that can assist them in obtaining housing assistance and other essential services.
The Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program is operated by the tribal court administrator, a program manager, a caseworker, a case manager, and an office manager.
- The court administrator oversees all programs run by the tribal court. Although he is not directly involved in providing child support enforcement services, he oversees the Child Support Enforcement Program to ensure effective coordination with the court.
- The program manager is responsible for overseeing all day-to-day program operations, including locating parents, conducting paternity tests, serving child support orders, organizing community outreach, and monitoring client compliance with orders.
- The caseworker is responsible for establishing and maintaining child support files, assisting clients in establishing child support orders and processing child support payments. The caseworker also helps the program manager conduct investigations into paternity, locate noncustodial parents, and determine parents’ ability to pay child support.
- The case manager has the same responsibilities as the caseworker, but is also required to present cases in tribal court, recommend legal action, assist with the preparation of cases for court hearings, and review cases with other agency staff, attorneys, and other states. The case manager also assists with establishing training procedures for Child Support Enforcement staff.
- The office manager processes most of the child support payments collected by the Child Support Enforcement program. Notably, the office manager only spends 75 percent of her time on this program. The remaining 25 percent is allocated to other court programs.
Case Flow Process
The Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program can serve any family in which at least one parent or caretaker is an enrolled member of the tribe or the child is an enrolled member or eligible for membership. The Child Support Enforcement Program does not use paternity tests to determine eligibility. Instead, the enrollment office, which certifies members for all services offered by the tribe, looks at the family trees of the applicant and the individual named by the applicant as the noncustodial parent.
A note on Klamath Tribal enrollment: The tribe’s membership criteria have changed over time. Until recently, a tribal member was required to have one-quarter or greater blood quantum from any of the three affiliated Klamath Tribes. Today, the required blood quantum is one-eighth. The tribal Child Support Enforcement Program expects the number of participants to increase significantly as a result of this change, as more families become eligible for enrollment in the tribe and therefore eligible for tribal services.
Most referrals to the Child Support Enforcement Program come from the tribal TANF office or from the state’s Child Support Enforcement Program. The program also serves some walk-ins. Eligible clients can open a child support case through an administrative order issued by the tribal court clerk. By contrast, cases referred from the state’s Child Support Enforcement Program require a judicial order signed by the tribal court’s judge.
- Referrals from TANF: Approximately half of all referrals to the tribal Child Support Enforcement Programcome from the tribal TANF office. When a person applies for temporary assistance, the TANF office requires that they also apply for child support, if eligible. The TANF office then requires applicants to sign a release of information and sends all forms over to the tribal Child Support Enforcement office.
- Referrals from the state: The other half of referrals to the tribal Child Support Enforcement Program come from the state Child Support Enforcement Program. When a custodial parent seeks to open a state child support case, the state inquires whether the individual is eligible for tribal services. If eligible, the state informs the parties by mail that the case will be transferred to the tribal Child Support Enforcement Program. Parties have 15 days to object to the transfer.
- Self-referrals: The Child Support Enforcement Program receives a small number of self-referrals. The program has intensified its community outreach efforts. In addition to the Child Support Enforcement website, the program now sets up a bounce house for kids at the tribe’s annual powwow, provides information to parents at back-to-school events, and publicizes its services in local newsletters.
Supervision and Compliance Monitoring
The Klamath Tribes have jurisdiction over child support cases opened through the tribal Child Support Enforcement Program or transferred to it from the state. Program staff monitor non-custodial parents’ compliance with child support orders by tracking payments. Staff contact non-compliant parents to encourage them to make their child support payments. If non-compliance continues, the program seeks to garnish the parents’ wages. Employers are required to follow the garnishment rules listed on the Federal Income Withholding Order.
The Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program generally does not use punitive sanctions for nonpayment, such as license suspensions, supervised probation, or jail. Child support cases go to court only when one or both parents disputes the amount to be paid and are unable to resolve the matter themselves.
Custodial parents must also comply with certain conditions, such as providing Child Support Enforcement staff with accurate information about the non-custodial parent. Failure to assist the program as required may result in the suspension of TANF benefits. This kind of sanction is used only in exceptional cases.
Termination from the Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program typically occurs when a child turns 18 or becomes financially independent. At that time, the non-custodial parent is relieved of his/her obligation to make payments, and the case is closed. In some cases, a custodial parent may decline to receive additional payments from the non-custodial parent. Such refusal may also be cause to terminate the child support order and close the case.
PLANNING & IMPLEMENTATION
The Child Support Enforcement Program’s two-year planning period was fully funded by the federal government. Since implementation, the program has been funded consistent with federal guidelines—the tribe is reimbursed for 90 percent of program costs during the first two years of operation and 80 percent in subsequent years. The tribe is responsible for providing the remainder of program funding. It meets this requirement by providing the building in which the Child Support Enforcement Program operates and by providing the judge for child support cases (using other federal funding).
By federal law, the Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program is required to submit both quarterly and annual reports that account for its use of federal funding. It must submit a 34A quarterly report to federal Department of Health and Human Services and 75A annual report to the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE). These reports are submitted online through the OnLine Data Collection website, oldc.com. The reports include data on the total number of cases, payments collected, and other information.
- Administration for Children and Families: Klamath officials referred to the New Tribal Child Support Enforcement Director’s Guide, published by the federal Administration for Children & Families (ACF), in designing the Child Support Enforcement Program. In addition, ACF’s regional director was an instrumental technical assistance contact during the program’s planning and development.
- Oregon Child Support Enforcement Program: The state child support enforcement program assisted the Klamath Tribes with program planning, meeting frequently with tribal staff to discuss program design issues.
- Other Tribal CSE Programs: During the first years of the Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program, the program manager conducted site visits to the Lummi Nation and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe to observe their Child Support Enforcement programs. Klamath staff used these visits to identify practices that they thought could work in their community. In addition, the Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program adapted the Lummi Nation’s data tracking system and created their own Microsoft Access database that they use to track payments, employment, taxes, and other data.
- Conferences and Training Events: Klamath staff attended a number of conferences and training events during the planning of the Child Support Enforcement program to learn how other tribes were building similar programs.
The Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program has several essential partners. The tribal court issues and enforces support orders. The tribe’s education and employment office allows Child Support Enforcement Program participants to use their computers to apply for jobs. The tribe’s TANF office shares information about TANF clients and makes referrals to the Child Support Enforcement program. The Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program also works closely with its state counterpart, the Oregon Child Support Enforcement Office.
The Federal Child Support Enforcement Office offers trainings and conducts site visits to ensure that the Klamath Child Support Enforcement program is compliant with federal regulations. Klamath staff also receive feedback and support from an attorney who works with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, which has the only other federally-recognized tribal Child Support Enforcement program in Oregon.
Factors Contributing to Success
The staff attributes the Klamath Child Support Enforcement program’s success to the development of healthy relationships among the partners, especially the state Child Support Enforcement office, state and tribal TANF office, federal government, and community at large. Also, after having experienced high employee turnover during its early years, the program now has a stable group of staff members who intend to remain on the project for the long term and have established positive working relationships with one another. This stability has resulted in a more effective program. The office also uses a shared calendar so that all staff members remain informed about upcoming responsibilities and deadlines.
One of the program’s biggest challenges is trying to locate parents. The tribe does not have access to the state locator system used to find individuals who need to be served orders. Instead, the court administrator, who knows many of the tribal members, has been a valuable resource for learning their whereabouts. Program staff sometimes use Facebook to find parents. Also, the staff has found the online database LexisNexis Accurint, a tool for verifying identities and conducting investigations, to be helpful in locating individuals by searching current employment and addresses.
The Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program has learned that the tribe’s high unemployment rate (around 50%) makes it difficult for many non-custodial parents to meet their full child support obligations in a timely and consistent manner. The program has therefore become more flexible with non-custodial parents, working to set reasonable expectations and making efforts to accommodate parents who are making a reasonable effort to pay what they can. For example, the program allows parents to make some non-cash payments, like a cord of wood, which is valued at $150.00, or clothing, the value of which is determined on a case-by-case basis.
The Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program has handled 406 child support cases since it opened in 2008. Of these, 48 entered the program in fiscal year 2013. In addition to its child support case load, the program conducts approximately 50 paternity tests each year.
According to program staff, the Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program produced a 19% increase in collections from 2012-2013 and a 45-50% increase since 2011. During one week in October 2013, the program collected $2,500, one of the program’s higher weekly totals. Together, the state Child Support Enforcement and the Klamath and Umatilla CSE programs brought in a total of $5.5 million.
The Klamath Child Support Enforcement Program initially struggled to win community support. Community members expressed confusion about the program’s goals and services. There was a perception that the program was simply taking money from tribal members. Tribal officials worked hard to explain to community members that the program was helping tribal children and families get the services and resources they needed. According to Child Support Enforcement program staff, the program’s image is improving with greater outreach and stronger relationships.
In one case, the Child Support Enforcement Program’s case manager began working with a mother and father before their child was even born. The mother had an acknowledged problem with drug abuse and could not take care of the child. After the baby was born, the case manager confirmed paternity and assisted the father in obtaining custody of the child from state child protective services.
In another case, a community member contacted Child Support Enforcement staff for help locating her children, who she believed had been left in another state by their father. Child Support Enforcement staff were able to find the children after contacting several government agencies and courts in California.
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