COLUMBUS, Ohio – The state has ditched a decade-old program that rounded up deadbeat parents one day or week each year to draw attention to people late with their child support payments.
The Department of Job and Family Services said people behind in support payments don't always deserve to be handcuffed on TV. The state also can't say whether the arrests generated overdue money for children.
Sheriff's departments said they had safety concerns about the program. Counties said they couldn't always pull together the employees to administer the arrests.
"When you've got a parent in front of you who says, 'I want to pay child support but I need help,' before we lock that person up, before we put them on TV, we want to give them that opportunity to do the right thing," Doug Thompson, deputy director for the state's Office of Child Support, told The Associated Press.
The arrests aren't going away, and many counties arrest dozens of people each day for failing to pay child support. But Thompson said the state is working with counties to figure out new ways to get parents to make regular payments.
This approach is consistent with recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Too often, social service agencies intervene in a child support case only after the parent piles up substantial debt that is unlikely to be collected, according to a 2005 strategic plan drafted by the agency's Office of Child Support Enforcement.
"Severe enforcement remedies applied when necessary have their place," the report said. "But this Strategic Plan signals our intent to build a culture of compliance, in which parents support their children voluntarily and reliably."
Counties weren't sorry to see the roundup go. Some worried about a one-day influx of offenders with already overcrowded jails and limited staff to handle the intake.
Others didn't participate because a local sheriff was already looking for the county's most wanted, said Kim Newsom Bridges, executive director of Ohio's association of child support enforcement directors.
For all these reasons, only 43 of the state's 88 counties participated in last year's event. In 2005, 39 participated.
Bridges said the roundups, which began in 1997, were important when they started as a way to publicize the issue and push sheriffs' offices to arrest people behind in payments.
Hamilton County led last year's roundup totals with 84 arrests, according to the state's news release about the 2006 effort.
Yet the county didn't even participate in the event, but instead forwarded to the state the number of relevant arrests it happened to make that week.
"Every day is roundup day," said Jeff Startzman, who oversees child support enforcement for Hamilton County Job and Family Services. The county makes almost 3,000 child support arrests a year.
An arrest is likely to force an offender to temporarily make a payment, but much more is needed to make those payments steady, Startzman said.
One of the county's approaches, Real Dads, links men behind in their payments with local businesses and "life coaches" who help them figure out how to keep a job and make regular payments.
"It's one thing to get money out of somebody, it's another thing to get money out of someone consistently because they want to do it and because it's a priority," Startzman said.
Some counties continue to do their own versions of roundups. Clermont County conducted a month-long effort in August that arrested 120 people, including a man hiding from police in an attic.
That's the type of scenario that worries some sheriffs, concerned about the pre-roundup publicity, said Bob Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association.
"When you give people advance notice that, 'I'm coming out tomorrow to pick everybody up because we're having a big roundup,' it gives some people an opportunity to lay in wait," Cornwell said.
Sheriffs hope providing a year's worth of arrest data will make a bigger impression on the public.