By: Jill Lucena-Machado, Sacramento County DCSS
As parenting coach Sue Atkins says, “There is no such thing as a perfect parent, so just be a real one.”
Sacramento County Department of Child Support Services (Sacramento DCSS) places a strong emphasis on encouraging parents to collaborate with their staff to gain understanding regarding child support establishment, modification and enforcement, knowing that children benefit financially and emotionally from the participation of both parents. In the last federal fiscal year, Sacramento DCSS staff have managed over 76,000 cases and collected over $119 million in support.
To recognize and celebrate parents for Child Support Awareness Month this year, Sacramento DCSS Caseworker Janae Kelso interviewed obligor Vinny V. regarding his experience throughout his child support case, which opened in 2013. The interview was published in the Sac County News and posted on the Sacramento DCSS website in early August.
When his case first opened, Vinny described himself as closeminded and in denial. Over time, his mindset changed and he has been able to successfully manage his case, which has led to a positive co-parenting relationship with his child’s mother. He encourages others to “take a leap of faith” and collaborate with their local DCSS on their cases. Here is his story:
Question: What was your initial reaction to being served?
Answer: I was happy that at least things were moving forward. [It gave me] an opportunity to show that in some way, shape, or form I can take care of my daughter. At that time, I didn’t have any custody or visitation, so I was hoping child support would help the relationship with my child’s mother.
Question: In what ways do you wish you had received more support or guidance?
Answer: In the beginning, a lot of my questions were about where the money was going and how it was being spent. Now I understand that that doesn’t really matter, as long as my child is being taken care of. It’s great that [DCSS can] help us as parents avoid the constant debate and power play that goes with money.
Question: What would you tell a parent who thinks his or her child support order is unfair for some reason, such as not being able to see the child or afford the order?
Answer: Take a leap of faith – this works! At first I wanted immediate results, but it doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t work that way. When I finally put my faith in the system, I started to understand that this is not for the parents, but for the kids. [Child Support Services] is automatically the enemy because [it is] taking licenses away and attaching wages, but I learned DCSS isn’t trying to take sides. They’re just there to do what’s best for the child. Take a leap of faith.
Question: How has managing your child support case successfully changed your life for the better?
Answer: I have a much better relationship with my daughter’s mom now. When you’re trying to convince the opposing side that you’re serious…, you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is. When [Sacramento DCSS] makes sure the payment is made every month on time, then the other person can’t argue with that, they don’t have a leg to stand on. When [my daughter’s mom] saw that I was paying on time every month and offering her more beyond that, that made her a believer. She could see I changed my ways.
Question: Do you have any tips for working with [local child support agencies] to get through challenges?
Answer: Honesty, willingness and open-mindedness. A lot of people are in denial about their situation with the [other parent] and you’ve got to get honest with yourself about what happened and why you have to pay this money now. [Being] open-minded [lets you] see that child support is for your child, it’s not a weapon used by your ex to get at you.
Congratulations to Janae Kelso and Sacramento County DCSS for creating such an atmosphere of collaboration and trust. Without this hard work, parents like Vinny V. would never consider Child Support Services a partner and a resource – but even worse, they would never move beyond the mistrust and misunderstanding that can damage their chances at a positive relationship with their children. These cases inspire us all.