Chicago Appleseed - Fund for Justice

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Child Support Reform

Illinois, according to federal government statistics, has historically been one of the worst states in the nation in terms of the amount of child support that actually reaches the children. More than two billion dollars are owed custodial parents in Illinois who are trying to survive financially. Chicago Appleseed, in partnership with the Chicago Council of Lawyers, has been working to change this disjointed and ineffective system for nearly ten years. We have served as a catalyst for change, offering a series of recommendations under the umbrella of the Unified Services Model.

Research and Advocacy

In 1998, retired Supreme Court Justice Seymour Simon worked with Chicago Appleseed and the Council to facilitate a blue-ribbon panel of experts that developed a unified services model. This model employs a "triage" method of intake for efficient use of personnel and resources, an expanded administrative role in processing support orders, and the consolidation of services into a unified, seamless system of child support collection and enforcement. In 2002, Chicago Appleseed completed a comprehensive research and advocacy project consisting of hundreds of interviews with parents, lawyers, judges, administrative hearing officers, court and government officials, and legislators. The report included the 1998 recommendations and added more - the report offered 83 recommendations to produce a better system of child support collection and enforcement.

In 2003, the Illinois legislature passed and the governor signed legislation encompassing the unified services model. We have been working with the state child support agency ever since to implement changes that create a more unified system.

In 2005, the state child support agency put into place changes that have improved the system. Among these changes is a program we first recommended in 1998 -- the addition in Cook County of an administrative process through which a specialist works with all parties at the beginning of the process to bring about as many support orders as possible. To make this approach more successful, we helped make service of process more efficient and effective by helping pass legislation allowing the use of private process servers in Cook County instead of relying on the Cook County Sheriff's Office. The result has been a dramatic increase in the number of child support orders entered in Cook County - which has led to a substantial increase in the amount of child support collected.

We will continue to work for the implementation of our recommendations - we hope that the Appleseed/Chicago Council Unified Services Model will serve as a best practices example for child support collection and enforcement throughout the nation in order to help millions of children and families through this often complicated and frustrating system. To begin this process, Chicago Appleseed has begun working with D.C. Appleseed in implementing our research approaches as part of our goal of expanding the Unified Services model.