The combination of the pandemic, staffing shortages and an outdated database has resulted in a series of backlogged cases within the Division of Paternity and Child Support, preventing custodial parents and their children from receiving their court-mandated support.
But that backlog is being addressed, Attorney General Denise George told lawmakers on Monday.
During a meeting of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety held Monday, Sen. Alma Francis Heyliger said her office has been inundated with frustrated mothers and custodial parents who are not receiving child support.
“This is an ongoing conversation,” Francis Heyliger said. “I literally had one mother with three daughters, about a week ago, and she has been trying to get funding from their father for the last few years. Apparently, every time he works and people know where he is working, she goes and reports the information to the agency, but she is not getting any traction. And these stories are endless in our community.”
Virgin Islands Attorney General Denise George said the division was aware of the complaints from the community and, since she became attorney general, has worked to alleviate the problem.
“When I came on board from the very beginning … the Paternity and Child Support Division was severely understaffed,” George said. “What we are doing to address the situation is that we have reorganized and sought funding, and right now we are at a place where the 33rd Legislature was able to appropriate certain funding, and we have used that funding to build the necessary staff that we need.”
The 33rd Legislature earmarked $680,000 for hiring necessary personnel within the division.
“Up until just a month ago, we had only one investigator within the Paternity and Child Support Division,” George said, but another four have been hired, and “they will immediately start investigating the backlog.”
The division also has hired caseworkers, case administrators and client facilitators, 15 in total, who will assist with the cases, George said. And all of these hires were hired “with the intention of them being able to address the backlog, address the shortfall. All of these cases are finally going to be able to effectively get the attention that it needs, and we’ll be able to effectively enforce and collect, which I believe fully that is what the children of the Virgin Islands and families deserve.”
The division is also in the process of re-platforming the Child Support Territorial Automated Reporting System, which George said, “will greatly increase efficiency, accuracy and timely processing of cases, and enable it to reach its ultimate goal to provide its customers with real-time access to their cases using more innovative technologies, such as a computer application or portal to gain access.”
Though the division has faced several challenges, George said because the division was able to hire special agents on both St. Thomas and St. Croix, “we have begun to aggressively collect on all outstanding arrears, to include the redistribution of the undistributed funds.”
The division has collected over $3.3 million so far this year between the many cases the division handles – 4,752 in the St. Croix District and 3,676 in St. Thomas/St. John District.
Though the problem is not entirely rectified, and the division requires additional staffing, George said the steps taken thus far, “bring us closer to addressing the backlog and seeing substantial improvement in providing the improved services to the children and families of the V.I.”
Sens. Steven Payne Sr., Novelle Francis Jr., Dwayne DeGraff, Kenneth Gittens, Francis Heyliger and Franklin Johnson were present for the hearing. Sen. Javan James Sr. was absent.