OCSE and the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation Promote Collaboration
The Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) and the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation (PCMR) are promoting collaboration between agencies and advocates serving people with mental retardation and Child Support Enforcement programs at state and local levels. The aim of this collaboration is to promote child support services for eligible families of children with mental retardation. This initiative bolsters a similar collaborative agreement between the Office of Child Support Enforcement and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities announced last September.
As you are well aware, many children with mental retardation live in families estranged by divorce, indeed, to a greater degree than occurs in families where there are no children with disabilities present. In addition, women with mental retardation who have a child may not be living with the child’s father. Consequently, child support services can make a significant difference for many families whose members have mental retardation.
Child support services offer eligible families of children with mental retardation resources which can make a significant difference in their lives. These services include establishing a child’s legal paternity, where needed, and establishing and enforcing support orders under which a non-custodial parent must contribute to the financial support of his or her children. The Child Support Enforcement Program exists to assist families with non-custodial parents to access these services.
Child support services can be significant for families not only in the amount of child support payments, but because these regularly scheduled payments will continue until a child reaches the age of majority. Other assistance programs such as Food Stamps, subsidized child care and Medicaid phase out as a family’s income level rises, but not child support services. Child support continues through the child’s growing years, and may even increase periodically to keep pace with the child’s needs and the non-custodial parent’s income levels. Some state laws even provide for child support payments to continue beyond the age of majority in certain circumstances, e.g., to complete education or due to physical or mental incapacity for self-support. Moreover, support orders typically include provision for the child’s coverage under employment-related health insurance available to the non-custodial parent, and this can be especially significant as a family’s access to Medicaid ends.
Beyond providing critical financial resources, establishing legal paternity and child support orders frequently lead fathers to want a personal relationship with their children. The growth enrichment this father-child relationship can offer a developing child is priceless. Every child needs and deserves financial and emotional support from both parents.
By virtue of this joint letter, we invite and urge our State and local Child Support Enforcement agencies and agencies and advocates serving people with mental retardation to collaborate with each other to promote child support services for eligible families of children with mental retardation. Among the steps that can be taken within your state to advance this collaboration, we suggest:
- Information-sharing meetings among key agency and advocacy leaders in both groups to explore the issues and plan implementing activities, including a process for ongoing program information exchanges and for promoting collaboration;
- State communiqués to the networks of local child support agencies and local service providers and advocates for people with mental retardation encouraging collaboration and asking them to meet together in their localities to get acquainted, explore local issues and build upon collaborative activities underway in their local communities;
- Cross-training of the State and local staffs in each program on the objectives, procedures, and issues facing the other program, so that the staffs are knowledgeable and sensitive in their interactions with each other;
- Procedures for making referrals of potentially eligible families who have a member with mental retardation to the appropriate Child Support agency for services; and
- Systems of outreach to eligible families through family support networks and other parent peer support groups and advocacy organizations, educating custodial parents on the benefits of child support services and providing information on contacting local Child Support agencies.
At the national level, the OCSE will be actively engaged in briefing and training sessions at the PCMR National Collaborative Academy on Mental Retardation this September to promote collaboration among the 15 participating State and Tribal teams and their respective State Child Support Enforcement agencies. For the year 2000, PCMR and OCSE are partnering with the Reaching Up Foundation to convene a major training institute on Poverty and Early Onset Disabilities at the City University of New York in February. This venue will offer further opportunities to promote collaboration between child support agencies and agencies and advocates serving families of those with mental retardation.
We are enclosing lists of State program contacts to assist you in linking with potential partners in your States and communities. In closing, we thank you for exploring with one another opportunities to improve and expand the range of services available to families with mental retardation.
President’s Committee on Mental Retardation
David Gray Ross
Office of Child Support Enforcement