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Cards tug at hearts of parents for child support

March 02, 1999

By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer




The Washington County Department of Social Services is sending birthday greetings to parents in an attempt to get them to pay court-ordered child support.

The Department of Social Services has collected $7,000 by mailing greeting cards designed to tug at parents' heartstrings.

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On the outside of the card is a colorful drawing by a child.

"Happy Birthday," reads the message inside. "Your child(ren) will also celebrate another birthday. You owe past due Child Support. Put your child first and begin making regular payments."

The agency has mailed more than 60 cards to noncustodial parents since last spring for an average return of $106 per card. Each card costs 50 cents to mail, including the stamp, said Social Services Director David Engle.

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"For such a tiny investment it's such a huge, huge return," he said.

The department only sends the cards to people with younger children who pay child support periodically.

"We're just using it as a gentle reminder, hoping that it jolts them back into a regular payment schedule," Engle said.

Washington County already does a good job collecting child support compared to other counties across the state, he said.

The county collects close to 75 percent of the child support ordered by the courts, Engle said.

Engle cites the birthday card program as one of the creative things the department is doing to convince parents to pay.

A staff member came up with the idea during a brain-storming session. The artwork was drawn by an employee's child.

One parent who sent in a check told the agency that getting the card was heartbreaking.

Another card returned by a parent did not contain a check, but did have obscenities. When the parent got to court, the judge took that into consideration and locked him up, Engle said.

"Each case is absolutely different. It's going to work with some people and it's not going to work with others," he said.

Other deadbeat parents only respond to harsher approaches. The agency is investigating whether to seize property. That power has not been used because the parents often don't have much of value.

The department also mailed out New Year's cards this year, urging deadbeat parents to make child support payments their New Year's resolution. Engle is awaiting the results.

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