By Rachel Shirey
McDONOUGH — Henry County’s Parental Accountability Court saved taxpayers nearly $250,000 in incarceration costs, just by keeping non-custodial parents responsible for child-support payments, officials said this week.
“Traditionally, parents who fail to pay child support for a specific period are eventually found in contempt and jailed, which is the correct course of action for parents who are working and able to pay, but refuse to do so,” said Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero. “However, for some parents, there are other barriers that keep them from paying, such as unemployment, criminal history, substance abuse issues, mental or emotional disorders or simply laziness.”
Amero realized that there had to be a better way to make non-custodial parents financially responsible for their children, and the idea of Parental Accountability Court was launched last March.
The court was designed to help overcome obstacles the chronic non-payer faces, such as seeking employment and meeting their obligations.
Judge Amero, who presides over the Parental Accountability Court, said that the primary goals of the new court were to increase payments by non-custodial parents to custodial parents, reduce incarceration costs to the county and help to make these parents productive, taxpaying members of society.
The non-payment of child support was a significant problem across the state of Georgia.
From 2008 to 2012, there were approximately 2,500 contempt cases filed by the state against parents who didn’t pay child support in Henry County.
In January 2012, there were 750 cases in which a non-custodial parent paid nothing toward court-ordered child support, and Judge Amero estimated that 40 percent of child support still goes uncollected across the state —a figure he said he finds unacceptable.
After a year of operation in Henry County Superior Court, 25 clients have entered the program, 22 are currently participating and of that number, 18 are working and paying their child support obligations.
“In association to those 22 parents, there are 35 children who are now being cared for financially, and that’s the real human side to this — to better the lives of the people we are involved with,” said Tina Brooks, the Parental Accountability Court coordinator.
The program requires participants to either work 40 hours a week or spend 40 hours a week looking for work and working on eliminating their barriers.
Brooks helps create a case plan and allow participants to identify their barriers in order to overcome them.
She also secures employment, bonding for employment and other services for each participant.
“It’s really an example for other courts across the state and she has set an excellent example for what a coordinator should do,” said Amero.