TUESDAY, OCTOBER 2, 2018
A bright colorful display helps remind the staff of the Family Support Division of the Prosecutor’s Office what it is they are working for.
The display features hand prints and the names of children supported by the division. It was created in August for the National Child Support Awareness Month and doesn’t appear to be going down any time soon.
“We have left our display up because it is really colorful and has been really helpful to our staff. They enjoy seeing it and it reminds them that it is those children that they work for. There are so many of them and we don’t always see the kids that they have names,” said Melissa Mauer-Smith, Director of the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Family Support Division.
The annual event is held in August to make the public more aware of the services that are offered by federal, state and local child support enforcement agencies. Mauer-Smith said that during the month staff focuses a little more on doing outreach in the community, doing advertising and putting up informational displays. It is also a time for staff to focus more on the customers who come into the office.
“The parent needs our services but the child is ultimately the beneficiary so when we look at who we are working for in our cases we always think about the children so in our office we focused on that this year by having the hand print display of all the children,” she said.
Each year staff also does a service project for children. This year the prosecutor’s office collected school supplies for Sheffield Place in Kansas City. Sheffield Place works with homeless mothers in recovery and their children to make them self-sufficient and give them a safe place to live.
“The general focus of the Family Support Division of the Prosecutor’s Office is paternity establishment, child support establishment, and child support enforcement and medical support enforcement,” Mauer-Smith said. “So we try to make sure that kids have the economic support in their family to help their family be successful. Evidence shows us that children who have a few more resources are going to do better.”
She said services are available to anyone regardless of income or whether or not their child is receiving any kind of benefit that is from the state of Missouri.
“Everybody that comes in our building needs our help. They are not getting what they are supposed to be getting through their court order or they don’t have a court order and they are not getting any help from the other parent. So all of those care givers and the children need some economic support.”
According to Mauer-Smith a lot of people don’t realize that the service is available to them and so they just go without establishing paternity and getting child support for their kids, or they have a child support order but they don’t know that system in Missouri will help them enforce that order or attempt to enforce that order for no charge.
“Those are usually the people that don’t have the resources to hire private counsel or private investigators to help them get something done. We are working with mostly the poor and working poor but we will do child support enforcement for anybody. I don’t think that people are really aware that we exist to do that for free,” she said.
Mauer-Smith said that there is a lot of genetic testing done in the office to establish paternity. “If somebody comes in, and it’s a case where we have been trying to get somebody tested, we have staff who are trained to collect the sample. On Tuesdays the laboratory that the state of Missouri has a contract with sends one to two people and they do it all day long for people who are scheduled for those days.”
There are currently 10,000 open cases being handled by the 40 person Family Support Division staff. Some of those are permanently assigned and are being paid so just need to be monitored. Others are being actively handled. “Every day we are sending out wage with holdings to employers to collect money. Every day somebody is filing actions in court to collect money. Every day someone is filing paternity actions to establish support or if paternity has already been established we are filing an administrative action to try to get the correct support amount for the child so that is all day long,” she said.
“We have a very experienced professional team that is very passionate about what they do and we are very fortunate that most of our staff has been here a substantial amount of time,” she said. “You really have to want to do this to assist families and kids because sometimes people are not happy with what we are doing or not able to do. We always look at it like our job is to do the best we can to get support for the kids in the county so that is how we see our roll.”