Erin Bowen

Butler County is determined to crack down when it comes to deadbeat parents falling behind in child support payments.

Despite the announcement in late December by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) that the state will terminate a yearly roundup program and arrest of parents who have failed to pay child support, Cynthia Brown, the executive director for the Butler County Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) announced Butler County would continue the program.

Neighboring Warren County will also continue to pursue and arrest parents.

The statewide program, created in 1997, managed to round up hundreds of parents each year from dozens of counties across the state of Ohio.

According to Dennis Evans, spokesman for the ODJFS, the state is no longer doing a one-day coordinated targeting of deadbeat parents in which all Ohio counties work together to round up individuals with outstanding warrants for unpaid child support.

“Over the years there have been various levels of participation,” Evans said.

Evans said the purpose at the beginning of this program, 10 years ago, was to encourage counties to foster relationships between child support agencies, child support programs and law enforcement. While he said the program was successful in doing this, he also said the one-day a year roundup was only

one tool that counties could use to round up parents.

“What we have stopped is the focus on one-day because there are far more efforts on a daily basis,” Evans said.

In addition to the one-day roundup, Evans said other tools to help catch parents include driver’s license suspension, holding of federal income tax refunds and other financial and enforcement tools.

According to Brown, 37 parents from Butler County were arrested in 2006 during a week-long roundup. Brown said Butler County ranked fourth out of the 88 participating counties. For the complete year of 2006, 83 parents were arrested, Brown said.

Evans said part of the reason for the state stopping the one-day roundup is to focus on creating a better working relationship between counties to promote programs that offer positive means for supporting people who want to pay child support but may not have the means to do so.

“We will always have the tools to go after those who have the means and refuse to pay, but we want to find out what kinds of programs can we do for those willing but may not have the means to consistently pay,” Evans said.

In support of keeping the program, Brown said her agency works with parents in Butler County to try to help them find work. Additionally, payments are sought primarily through civil courts.

“Criminal charges are a last resort,” said Brown, who explained that repeated failure to pay child support could result in a conviction of a felony with a maximum prison sentence of 18 months. Brown said the parents are also fined the amount owed to address the care of the child.

“There is an element of surprise when a county can do it on its own,” Evans said.

When methods such as tax liens and civil courts fail, Brown said individual counties resort to creative measures.

In March 2007, controversy erupted when Brown and the Butler County CSEA printed photos of some of the most wanted deadbeat parents on pizza boxes from three local pizzerias. Privacy and equal rights groups strongly rejected.

With more than 400 names on a warrant list for Butler County, Brown said the county is determined to persevere.

“We aren’t trying to penalize these people,” said Brown. “We are just trying to help the kids who have a right to be supported.”

Additional reporting by Allison Cole.