Sites support caseworkers, parents

New Mexico and Virginia, faced with growing child support enforcement caseloads, have turned to technology to provide better service to parents and ease the burden for their workers.

In both states, officials say they hope new interactive Web sites will reduce the hundreds of thousands of calls their agencies handle annually from the public.

In New Mexico's Child Support Enforcement Division, which handles 100,000 cases a year, Director Helen Nelson said the customer service unit fields 6,000 calls a week. Of those, 90 percent are from parents asking routine questions about payments or the status of their cases. Caseworkers also handle repetitive questions, which diverts them from cases. That also holds true in Virginia, where each worker handles 950 cases, said Nathaniel Young, director of the Division of Child Support Enforcement. The state has 400,000 cases representing 545,000 children, and the caseload is increasing, he said.

The division's new Web site (www.dss.state.va.us/family/dcse.html), unveiled in June, allows custodial parents to view case events. Noncustodial parents can view only the last six payments sent. Parents can access the site by using the case number and the last four digits of their Social Security number. To ensure privacy, Young said no names are listed on the screen, just data.

The site gets 600 hits a day, and Young said more interactive options are being planned similar to what New Mexico offers.

To use New Mexico's site (childsupport.hsd.state.nm.us), developed with Accenture, parents apply for a personal identification number and password.

Custodial parents can review their case payment history, including child support owed, payments made and the status of any court proceedings, Nelson said. They also can update addresses, establish direct deposit for payments, add a dependent, provide leads on the whereabouts of a delinquent parent or report a noncustodial parent's new assets. Custodial parents have access to information pertinent to them, such as money owed, payments received by the agency and case status. They also can authorize automatic withdrawals from banks, and starting this fall, they can pay electronically by credit card.

A custodial and noncustodial parent cannot view each other's information. Information about a particular case also is restricted to the caseworker.

Nelson said the public has access to general information about child support and the agency, but cannot gain access to any private data. The site also allows small businesses to electronically send a noncustodial parent's garnished wages to the state agency in fewer than two days. Previously, that process took up to 10 days.

Since the Web site's January unveiling, 679 people have requested PINs and the site has received nearly 12,000 hits, Nelson said. Agency officials have not actively marketed the site, but within two months, they will roll out a print and TV ad campaign.

In partnership with other state agencies, officials are planning to install kiosks at shopping centers and other places next summer.

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