HANCOCK COUNTY — It’s a difficult job, full of multiple responsibilities, but the group of people who work for Hancock County Child Support Services know that without their efforts, children will struggle.
The department is part of the Hancock County prosecutor’s office and is led by Susan Sherwood, the child support director. Sherwood has developed a system and a staff that has been acknowledged as one of the best in the state, bringing in $4,493,341 in child support payments in 2017 and $4,536,091 in 2018.
The department was recently recognized by the Indiana Child Support Bureau for exceeding state and federal average performance measures. The staff was also given a Certificate of Continued Excellence by the state for exceeding state goals for more than five consecutive years.
“This is old hat for the group,” Prosecutor Brent Eaton said. “They know what they’re doing, and they do it well.”
While there are an estimated 6,000 child support cases in the county, Sherwood oversees five case workers who handle approximately 1,640 cases a year, in which parents need help collecting support payments from noncustodial parents. Each of the workers in the department handles around 350 cases. The group not only handles child support collections, but also works with parents to establish paternity, as well as recommend modifications on court orders.
“Our ladies work really hard and are very diligent in trying to collect money and get support for the children in our county from here in the county and all around the United States,” Sherwood said.
Melissa Rieskamp has been a caseworker for the county for eight years. She handles each case the way she’d want them to be looked into if she needed the service, she said. The driving force behind what the caseworkers do is the children they serve.
“I know kids have needs,” Rieskamp said. “We try to pull together as a team in here, but we also try to get the mom and dad to work together for their kids as a team.”
For Ginger Lambert, who has been a caseworker for over six years, it’s important for them to not only think of the children, but also noncustodial parents. They often are important in the family dynamic, and sometimes that means cutting them some slack.
“We’re human, we know that stuff comes up, and things happen, so we try to work with them without enabling them,” Lambert said.
The job can be stressful, the women said. They’ve heard hundreds of excuses for delinquent payments throughout the years and have dealt with watching parents and children struggle, all while maintaining focus on the task at hand.
The group even helps noncustodial parents find jobs, working through the state’s workforce development programs in an effort to help both parents live up to their children’s responsibilities. One of the last things the caseworkers want to see is a noncustodial parent hit with a felony charge, because it will make it hard for them to get employment and defeat the long-term goal of getting financial support for their children.
“It takes two to make ‘em. It takes two to raise ‘em,” Rieskamp said.
The group seeks to help noncustodial parents understand they are not contacting them to lock them up, but rather to help them help their children.
While Sherwood admits it’s nice to be recognized by the state for the work her department does, the job is really all about helping children.
The better supported children are, the better lives they will have, Sherwood said, and that improves their chances of growing up to be productive citizens.
“Having that support can help a family stay together and survive better,” Sherwood said.
The program has evolved, Sherwood and Eaton said, and they’re getting better tools from the state to help the caseworkers do their job of keeping track of cases.
Eaton noted that’s the key to the department’s success: making sure they use all the tools at their disposal to help them enforce the courts’ orders.
“We’re always trying to find new ways to go at problems so that we can get the orders enforced,” Eaton said.
Sometimes, parents will disappear, Eaton said, but the department has an investigator who works to locate them so the caseworkers can step in and do their job.
Courtesy of the Greenfield Daily Reporter