Deadbeat Parents

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Last week we told you about two area parents struggling to collect child support. Since that story aired we've received dozens of calls and e-mails from moms and dads in the same boat. This week, 23 News reporter Nichole Vrsansky takes a look at what happens when hiring an attorney is not an option.

It's been nearly a year since Kim Moir's received a child support payment for her two kids. Not able to afford an attorney, she turned to the Illinois Department of Public Aid, the state agency in charge of these cases. It took a month to get an appointment.

"She said to me ‘call me back or send me an e-mail in three weeks so I don't forget to handle your case,’" says Moir.

But all child support calls for the entire state are now directed to one phone number, so instead of calling her regional office, Moir now dials the same digits as everyone else in Illinois.

"I think a lot of people would probably give up, get lost in the process and just give up,” says Moir.

"It can take six months, up to a year, just to get an appointment with someone and that's just step one of the process," adds attorney Donald Ray.

And if you think those of us in the media have better access, not so. While there is a regional public aid office here in Rockford, I was told the phone number was not public information.

"Many calls deal people wanting to know a court date or the status of their case and a lot of times people in local offices were tracking down those numbers rather than working on their specific cases," explains Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Public Aid.

Claffey says there have been improvements to the system and he believes they're working. For example, wait times are going down. On average he says it takes seven minutes to speak to a live operator and collection rates are going up. In Winnebago County, IDPA now collects on 48 percent of child support cases compared to 39 percent in 2002.

"We haven't gotten to where we want to be but we are making improvements," says Claffey.

But attorney Donald Ray says he still has clients who turned to him after being fed up with the IDPA, not only with wait times, but with disorganization as well.

He's still trying to clear up one case in particular. The Department of Public Aid sent two letters to his client on the same day, one claimed she was owed more than $18,000 in back payments, the other said she was overpaid by nearly $23,000, again both from the IDPA, both dated July 26, 2002.

"Until they're accountable for their mistakes, nothing's going to change. They can say it's going to get fixed all they want and there are a lot of good people trying to fix it, but right now it doesn't seem to be making a big difference," says Ray.

But since Gov. Rod Blagojevich took office, he's said that improving the child support system would be a priority, and this year Illinois did collect a record $950 million in child support. However, it's estimated that $3 billion is owed, so there are still a lot of moms and dads out there not paying and it's the children who pay the ultimate price.