MARINETTE —  A program designed to help non-custodial parents contribute to the support of their dependent children by becoming employed will be reinstated soon in Marinette County if the County Board of Supervisors follows the advice of its Administrative and Public Services committees.

The Administrative Committee voted Thursday to recommend the county board approve creating a part-time Child Support Children First case manager position at a cost of approximately $10,000 for the remainder of 2019, effective immediately, subject to review if grant funding declines. The committee also voted to recommend approval of not more than $10,000 in contingency funds to supplement the grant. The Public Services Committee endorsed the proposal to recreate the position on Tuesday.

“We were successful in acquiring a grant for this position,” said County Administrator John Lefebvre. “However, the grant is not 100-percent (funding for the position).

“It opens the door to recreate the position that existed 15 years ago. It was originally in the Health and Human Services Department. Because of budget cuts it was cut. The Child Support Director (Sue Hinch) said it would be a really good thing if the county could get back into this and provide this service. We were able to get some grant money for it and it is supported by the (circuit) judges.”

“We address you in strong support of reinstitution of the Children’s First program here in Marinette County,” Judges James Morrison and David Miron said in a letter to the two committees and the county board. “This is a position designed to do as its name suggests, putting children first by assisting parents in getting and keeping  jobs to properly support their children.

“We have had the program in the past, it was very successful and should be reinstated. We understand that you will be considering this, first in the Public Services and Administrative committees, and then the county board as a whole. We urge each of these bodies to give this serious and favorable consideration.”

The statement of justification to create the position said “Marinette County had a very successful Children’s First program from 1994-2005. Approximately 500 noncustodial parents participated in the program during those 12 years. Unfortunately the program was eliminated due to budget cuts.

“Our Child Support Agency has been awarded $20,000 for 50 participants for 2019 upon acceptance by Marinette County. The federal government will reimburse 66 percent of administrative costs. The Children First program is designed to provide case management to connect noncustodial parents (payers) to employment services, with the goals of obtaining employment and providing child support to their families.”

Children First services include: Provide one-on-one case management; assess for potential barriers to employment; teach interviewing skills ,as well as resume and cover letter writing; review employment search methods and options; teach organizational skills; refer to remedial education classes such as reading and math skills; refer to Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, if applicable, and assist for potential referral needs such has medical, food, housing assistance, child care and transportation to work.

Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison, who works closely with the Child Support Agency, told the Administrative Committee on Thursday that Marinette County doesn’t like to send persons to jail for not paying child support, “however some folks just flat-out refuse to pay their child support.”

“In Marinette County we standardly ask the court to order work searches, we essentially force people to do 10 work searchers per week,” she explained. “Then the Child Support Agency has to spend time verifying that (the job searches).

“Some people make up stories about where they apply. The Child Support Agency has moved in the last year or so to say they can send people to workshops.”

Mattison estimated that the Child Support Agency currently has an active caseload of close to 600 people.

“There are a lot of people that don’t pay their child support, we are very busy,” she said. “I think it’s (Children First) a great program.

“Hopefully there will be somebody willing to apply for the position and get the program running. What you need to do is try to encourage them and provide some incentives. The biggest incentive is you don’t go to jail. Jail is counter-productive.”

Mattison said Children’s First can help persons who lack motivation and don’t have the greatest work skills.

“One of the things we have in Marinette is that are a ton of jobs out there,” she said. “These are not high-paying jobs, but there are jobs out there.”

Supervisor Rick Polzin of the Administrative Committee asked Mattison if Children First would duplicate current programs.

“I don’t see it as an overlap,” Mattison said. “This program would enhance what is going on.”

“My take on people who don’t want to pay child support is they don’t want to work and they know all the loopholes.” Polzin said. “I just question whether it (Children First) is somewhat redundant. There’s all kinds of things available now.”

“There are a lot of folks for one reason or another who fall behind in their child support, maybe they’ve lost their job,” Mattison said. “Maybe that little bit of motivation through assistance in finding a job is all they need.”

Supervisor Don Paznyski of the Administrative Committee said “This is a supplement to what is being done. If you get 1 in 10 or more to step forward to accept the responsibility (to pay child support) it (Children First) is a success.”

“From what I read this system has worked in the past,” he said. “I see no reason why it wouldn’t work again.”

Supervisor Mark Anderson, county board chairperson and a member of the Administrative Committee, said if the program had to be 100-percent funded by the county he would probably vote against it.

“All these services are available to anybody if they wanted to find them,” he said. “The problem is most people don’t want to find them.

“When we have somebody there kind of holding their hand, getting them through the process and helping them connect and be accountable, they change their behavior.”