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Legislators hear child support collection ideas

January 29, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - For six years, the state gave the Washington County Department of Social Services special freedom to find creative ways to collect child support.

The so-called demonstration project ended last year, taking with it some of the innovative programs that were created.

Social Services Director David Engle found himself in front of a panel of lawmakers Tuesday trying to convince them to take some of the ideas statewide.

Washington County's child support collection rate of 76 percent is the highest in the state.

One of the most effective tools, Engle said, was the ability to offer incentive pay.

For two years, employees who met child support collection goals received bonuses of about $500 each quarter, he said.

It inspired employees to find new ways of reaching absentee fathers. For example, the agency would send fathers a card on their child's birthday to remind them to pay child support

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"It created an atmosphere of innovation," he said.

Because of budget constraints, the department can no longer afford the bonuses, he said.

Under the demonstration project, Washington County began contracting out its legal services instead of using the State's Attorney's Office, which saved about 50 percent of its budget.

The agency also was given more flexibility in hiring, which allowed it to recruit some top employees, he said.

Because of the demonstration project, Engle said he is a proponent of fatherhood programs.

The programs have helped reunite children with their estranged fathers, he said.

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