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Wake County Child-Support Workers Well-Intentioned But Overburdened

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Lewis Jackson's work days are busier than a lot of other people's.


Wake County Child Support

employee is responsible for nearly 600 cases.

"Between phone calls, and people stopping in, and going to court, it can be kind of hard to keep up with," Jackson said.

Last year, Wake County collected more than $26 million in child support. Though that is a lot of cash, consider that more than 200,000 parents in the state owe more than $1 billion in payments.

Case workers like Jackson take a lot of heat from parents who are frustrated and angry about not getting their money. But Wake County Child Support workers have a case load well above what the state recommends.

According to Child Support managers, more staff is needed to deal with the problem. But that is not part of Wake County's budget proposal for the coming year.

Beth Christo, whose ex-husband owes her nearly $20,000 for the support of their two children, said well-intentioned but overburdened case managers have given her the runaround for three years.

"You go to Wake County, and they want to help you, but they just don't have the resources to do it," Christo said. "I have lost my car. I have moved my children twice. There are times when I don't know if I'm going to make it to pay day."

Wake County Child Support Director Lillian Overton asked for 17 permanent positions in the next county budget. The request was denied by

Wake County Human Services.

"We do the best we can with the resources made available to us," Overton said, "and we'll do the best we can in child-support enforcement with what we have."

While people may have concerns about the review process, in many ways, the train already has left the station. Wake County Human Services Director Maria Spaulding said the department has gone through a rigorous review process. Division heads originally asked for more than 120 positions, a number that has been cut in half.

Wake County Human Services Medical Director Peter Morris acknowledged that child support is important. But he said that, this year, Child Welfare and Mental Health will receive more dollars.

"We're confident we will meet some of the needs of this growing population during this time of economic downturn," Morris said. "But, no, we aren't able to meet all of those needs."

Wake County Manager David Cooke has the budget requests in his hands. He will take a revised version to the county commissioners on May 17 and said everyone will not get everything they want.

The commissioners are expected to take a final vote in mid-June.

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