MDHHS Child Support Advisory Council drives change in department; Diverse membership providing input to ensure fairness and transparency
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Dec. 8, 2021
CONTACT: Bob Wheaton, 517-241-2112
LANSING, Mich. - Michigan's Office of Child Support has listened to parents who are on its recently formed Child Support Advisory Council and taken several actions in response to input.
Since February, Michigan's Office of Child Support - which is part of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services - has hosted the Community Advisory Council that it formed to help make sure the office is fair and works for everyone.
"MDHHS values input from the people that we serve," said Lewis Roubal, the department's chief deputy director for opportunity. "Hearing diverse viewpoints helps the Office of Child Support make decisions that are beneficial to children and families."
Several significant program changes have been achieved since the council began meeting. They include:
- An improved process for handling child support program complaints.
- Greater sensitivity in the wording the Office of Child Support uses to refer to Michiganders the program serves. The office is moving toward referring to "case members, program participants, parents and caregivers" instead of "customers" or other terms.
- Changes to ensure the advisory council is aware of the Office of Child Support's projects and initiatives and to provide an opportunity for input by council members.
Creation of this council is a part of MDHHS efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
"Being a part of the Office of Child Support Advisory Council has been extremely rewarding," said India Hoskins, a parent from Kalamazoo. "The existence of this council alone shows the system can and wants to do better for the many families involved. We have started turning our experiences and our stories into an actual proposal. The sharing of these stories is honestly the best thing I think the council has done so far. We've created a safe space for people to share their experience as it relates to child support, custody, paternity, and the overall complexities of the system stretching much further than the Office of Child Support. Getting that on the table for others to acknowledge and turning those stories into a policy proposal provides a level of healing," she said. "Each and every one of us is committed to making a change to benefit all Michigan families - regardless of race, educational attainment, sexual orientation, or economic status. We are real people looking to make real change!"
Another council member, Shaunta Patton, a parent from Jackson, said he feels blessed to be able to work together with a group that is diverse, committed and passionate.
"The work we started on behalf of child support payers and recipients has been amazing," he said. "I learned so much about the work of the Office of Child Support and how complex the needs are across the State of Michigan. I am sure all council members can say we appreciate the partnership and the opportunity to make the child support process more equitable for all families."
The Office of Child Support held virtual informational meetings in October 2020 about plans to form the council. Invitations to these meetings were distributed to a wide range of individuals, groups and demographic populations using both traditional and digital methods. Interest in the meetings was higher than expected, with 56 attending. The 12 council members were chosen from 42 applicants who expressed a keen understanding of the council's goals and objectives and a willingness to think globally beyond their own personal situation.
Council membership crosses an intersection of demographics, with representation from different races/ethnicities, genders, ages, education levels, LGBTQ status, incomes, and geographic locations. All except one have either paid or received child support in their families. Members have voiced special interest in areas including veterans, fatherhood, special needs children, domestic violence and accessibility/disability issues. Child support programs across other states and tribal governments have shown great interest in the council, and several Office of Child Support staff members have presented at national conferences.
"Child support programs recognize the need to grow and change to serve in ways that do not unintentionally harm," said Office of Child Support Director Erin Frisch. "We're proud to be partnering with this group of committed individuals in Michigan to be trailblazers in this area."
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