Imagine, if you will, being trapped in a situation where you married into a law enforcement family and that family not only knew exactly what abuse you and your children were being subject to but that same family threatened to use their careers, connections, and reputation with law enforcement to fabricate charges against you if you ever spoke out about the hell you were enduring, promising you that you'd never see your children again. Now imagine you finally find the strength and courage to escape only to have your general location disclosed to the offender because DCSS has put them on notice that a child support enforcement action has been opened against them in your new county of residence in spite of the fact that you had requested and were granted your good cause waiver.
Survivors of domestic violence often find themselves survivors of sexual assault, human trafficking, and stalking within the dynamic of their relationships. Survivors will also, oftentimes, find themselves having children with their partner. The survivors desire for the child(ren) is love for them, but their partner’s desire for the child(ren) is a means of imposing their power and control over the survivor, even after the survivor escapes, IF they're fortunate enough to do so. Escape, for a survivor and their children, almost always means leaving with nothing but their lives and what little bit they can carry in a getaway bag, if they're lucky. The offender leaves them financially destitute as a means to keep them trapped within the relationship and under their control. This forces survivors to depend on entitlement programs like cash aid, food stamps, and state medical in order to provide the very basic needs for themselves and their children.
When a survivor walks into their county office to apply for these programs they are told that they will be required to assign child support rights to the county and that the state will open a child support enforcement case against the offender. This will, more often than not, cause the survivor to withdraw their application for assistance; turn around and walk out. If the survivor is lucky and they get a county worker who cares enough about the people they were hired to serve, their worker will inform them that as a survivor they can file ‘a good cause waiver’ to release them from the obligation of assigning child support rights to the county. This prevents the state from opening a child support enforcement action against the offender.
This waiver is designed to protect the safety of the survivor and their children as taking such action against an offender can, and often does, incite rage against the survivor putting them at increased risk of harm or even death. If the survivor has fled the county of state where the offender resides, the support action will give the offender their new county of residence. And, worse yet, if the survivor has gone to the most extreme measures to best ensure their safety, having undergone witness protection type measures to escape the offender (new name, new birth certificate, new social security number, and new state ID or driver's license) the child support action taken by the state effectively puts the offender on notice of their new identity. Making everything that they've done up to that point, pointless.
You’re probably wondering how, then, does the Department of Child Support Services put survivors' lives and safety at risk if they are entitled to such a waiver to prevent DCSS from opening a child support enforcement action against an offender. The simple fact of the matter is that the waiver takes time to approve; and because it requires approval by a supervisor, and it's not something that can simply be requested verbally as it (supposedly) requires a wet / original signature, it requires forms to be completed and signed before submission. With most, if not all, eligibility interviews being conducted remotely since COVID, this requires a survivor to wait for, and be at the mercy of, the USPS. Workers often refuse to email anything to a client as they don't want the client to have that kind of access to them. When correspondence is done in writing it's a lot easier for the client to hold their worker accountable to what they do or don’t do. And because decisions about a client's case, complaint, or grievance are largely based on documentation, if the client has no documentation of what they are saying, and the worker failed or simply refused to document it in their case notes, the default is almost always going to be to go off what is found in the case notes. And for this reason it's a widely accepted policy of most, if not all, of the county agencies not to correspond via email with clients about their cases.
Because DCSS can only collect child support beginning the date they filed an enforcement action against the absent / non custodial parent, in this case the offender, and not before; they begin enforcement action as soon as they get notice that the survivor has been granted cash assistance. Even with a waiver pending they open a case. So DCSS policy and "best practices" disregards the potential gravity of the survivors' circumstances that would warrant their request for such a waiver in the interest of a few dollars and open a child support enforcement action against the offender.
Bottom line is that, not only is DCSS putting survivors and their children's lives and safety at risk, they continue to traumatize and retraumatize them by their gross abuse of power for the sake of a few measly dollars.
Now imagine the offender takes that information and comes looking for you, ends up finding you and killing you before killing himself. Maybe he let your children live, or maybe he took their lives in the process; but you're dead, and he's dead, and the state still isn't going to get their money. Except now lives are lost and it all could have been avoided if DCSS would have simply WAITED for the determination on your request for the good cause waiver and handled your situation with the care and consideration it warranted. This might sound extreme and far fetched but I assure you it’s not. This is the reality many survivors live with but is widely unknown because of the simple fact that the worse the abuse is the less likely it is to be reported for fear of the ramifications on the one enduring it.
The blood is then on the counties hands, and the state's hands, but it's of no consequence to them because they are the government or a government agency, and by default immune from most any action that might be brought against them when their actions or decisions result in adverse consequences for those subject to them. The government and system is always going to protect itself, and its self interest, above all else.
This needs to change, and it needs to change now. We, as survivors, aren't just our case or docket numbers; we are real people, facing real situations. More often than not we’re fighting for our lives against the very system that is supposedly designed to protect us but does little to actually follow through. A system that is our only recourse to protect ourselves but all too often ends up making our situations worse and tying our hands from doing for ourselves what the system fails to do for us. Our lives matter. Our lives have value. And it's time the system conducted itself in such a way that reflects it.
Now and forever,