By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter
MOUNT VERNON — The county's Seek Work program, started two years ago, is a success judging by the increased child support payments in 2017. Thus far this year, the program has collected about $73,000, a nearly 64 percent increase over the $46,844 the program collected from Jan. 1 to April 30, 2016.
Deputy Doug Turpin of the Knox County Sheriff's Office coordinates the program through the Child Support Services division of Knox County Job & Family Services. He serves the initial papers on individuals ordered to pay child support, works with them to acquire the skills to get a job if necessary, points them to job opportunities and helps them with the application, and stays in close contact with them throughout the entire process.
“It's been two years now, and it's growing,” said Turpin of the Seek Work program during a visit with the county commissioners on Thursday. “The amount of people who are paying is positive.”
“Maybe you are going to help break this chain of generation after generation being on child support,” Commissioner Roger Reed told Turpin.
One hundred and fifty individuals are in the program now; about 35 percent of them do not live locally. Because of the increasing caseload and the travel distances involved, KCJFS is seeking to add a second deputy to assist Turpin.
Marty Thomas, CSS administrator, said the eight case managers working in Child Support Services each average a caseload of 750. In 2016, CSS collected over $7 million in total child support payments.
“The case managers do such a good job,” she told the commissioners, adding that the managers are “really invested” and “hit the ground running every day.”
“That's $7 million that is going to families and children from their absent parent,” said Matthew Kurtz, director of KCJFS. “The absent parents have really stepped up more than a generation ago, and that makes a difference in the lives of children.”
Thomas cited out-of-wedlock birth statistics as one reason why CSS' caseload has increased. Between 1965-69, 8.9 percent of births were out of wedlock. In 2010, the number jumped to 41 percent. In 2013, one out of every three Knox County births were out of wedlock.
Attorney Mike Miller, who recently joined the CSS staff, said he has spent the last few months reviewing policy, streamlining contempt of court proceedings and preparing for emancipation filings. Emancipation season comes in the spring and involves those children who will be terminated from the program because they turned 18 and will graduate. This year, 194 children will be terminated due to emancipation.