“Children First.” Now doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?

We are pleased to learn that Marinette County will reinstate its Children First program. The program is designed to help non-custodial parents contribute to the support of their dependent children by becoming employed. The resurrection of the program was made possible as the result of a grant that was approved by the county board of supervisors.

The board approved the creation of a part-time Child Support Children First case manager position at a cost of about $10,000 for the remainder of 2019. The move has immediate effect and will be subject to review should the grant funds decline. Supervisors also authorized the use of not more than $10,000 in contingency funds to supplement the grant.

The Child Support Agency has been awarded $20,000 for 50 participants for 2019 and the federal government will reimburse 66% of administration costs, according to the justification statement for the creation of the program.

Child Support Director Sue Hinch is optimistic that the newly created position will be filled without delay. The county had the program in place from 1994 to 2005 when it was discontinued for budgetary purposes.

“It was very successful,” Hinch told the county board. “It’s a court-ordered program to get participants who have court-ordered child support and are not paying the support. The program is to get work, essentially.”

According to Hinch, Children First was initiated in the late 1980s as part of a welfare reform plan.

Hinch discounts the notion from skeptics that the program is just another handout. “It actually tries to get people to be an active member of society as a payer and as a parent,” she told supervisors. “The primary goal is to help the parent have the ability to pay and to improve the well-being of the children.”

Here are some of the services that are provided under the Children First program: Provides 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 as medicine, food, housing assistance, child care and transportation to work. 

The program director emphasized that child support is not reduced while a person is enrolled in the program. Twenty counties and one tribe in Wisconsin currently have the program up and running. 

We suspect more counties will join the list after they see how successful it is in other counties. Judges and other child support specialists in particular have lauded the program. The economy is solid and job opportunities are at the highest level in years, which should be helpful to the program.

Based on the reports and recommendations from advocates who have had experience in the Children First program, we commend Marinette County for joining the list of active participating counties.