Govt targets deadbeat dads
Deadbeat dads who refuse to pay child support could face travel restrictions, according to Minister of Community, Culture and Sports Wayne Scott.
Mr Scott said that Government is still discussing “creative solutions” for those who fail to pay child maintenance, but some suggestions include limits at TCD and limits on travel rather than prison sentences.
“Let's take that case where the father has the ability to pay and for whatever reason they're not,” Mr Scott said. “Instead of sending them to jail, I would like to put a restriction on their passport. Put on a restriction at TCD so if you can't afford to pay child support, you can't afford to drive that nice shiny car. Certainly you can't afford to take a trip if you can't pay for your child.
“These are things that we are discussing and the direction that I would like for this to go.”
There are cases where fathers do pay child support but are still denied access to their children by the mothers, he noted, saying: “It goes both ways.”
Sheelagh Cooper of the Coalition for the Protection of Children said she was pleased that the Government is considering travel and vehicle restrictions for parents who choose not to pay child support rather than sending them to prison.
“Nobody wins when a father is sent to prison,” she said. “Not only do they lose the opportunity make the money needed to pay child support, but they lose the possibility of the child having a relationship with that father. It's a lose-lose situation, and it's certainly not been effective.
“Clearly if there is money available it shouldn't be used for travel or to buy a new car. Of course one would want to be careful that there is no undue hardship, and that if there is an emergency a person could travel for medical reasons.” She also reiterated her support for an increased focus on mediation, as mentioned in the Throne Speech, saying it could help situation where mothers prevent fathers from spending time with their children.
“We strongly support any time that children can spend with their fathers,” she said. “That's why we offer mediation. Because we see so many instances where there's a great deal of conflict between the parents and when we can sit down and communicate, the children are much better off.”
Martha Dismont of the Family Centre meanwhile said she agrees with the concept of finding alternatives to incarceration, but the penalties shouldn't be widely implemented until they are proven effective.
“I think it is wise to begin to look at what will ensure that parents are made to be more responsible, and these suggestions could possibly work,” she said.
“I would also suggest a less punitive approach up front by doing an education and awareness campaign first, so those who have taken this issue lightly can begin to take care of their responsibilities prior to imposing sanctions, penalties and fines.”
Mr Scott said the Ministry has experienced an unprecedented increase in demand for financial assistance and child day care relief, spending more than $36 million on assistance between January and October this year.
“This is approximately $1 million less than the previous Government budgeted for their last budget, and we still have a way to go with this budget year,” he said.
“This type of spending cannot be sustained in the long term. We will implement policies that will streamline our way of doing business and at the same time get the required services to those who are in need in our community.”
The Minister noted several initiatives discussed in last week's Throne Speech, including the Human Services Information System, which he said is designed to improve the effectiveness of cross-ministry teams by consolidating data collected by a number of service agencies from the schools to the prisons.
“There is no way I can go today and see what interaction Wayne Scott has with the system,” he said. “There are so many good ideas out there, but when you can't go in and quantify what's working and what's not, by definition what's left is you just keep putting more and more money at a problem you're not solving.”
He also noted the success of the pilot Community Driven Development (CDD) programme, pledging that the programme will be expanded in the coming year.