October 23, 2014
Final Reports
San Mateo Courts - Civil Grand Jury

FAMILY SUPPORT DIVISION ACTIVITY REPORT

Summary
Summary:

The grand jury reviewed the policies and practices of Family Support Division collections from non-custodial parents as a result of a complaint. The grand jury conducted a preliminary investigation into the circumstances reported by the complainant and assisted the complainant in resolving specific issues. During this process, the grand jury identified a need for the Family Support Division to assess the level of client satisfaction with its services.

The Family Support Division administered the wage garnishment of a former resident of San Mateo County required to make monthly child support payments. Following relocation to Contra Costa County and marriage, the complainant reported apparent accounting discrepancies to the Family Support Division. According to the complainant, payments had not been properly credited, thereby causing administrative sanctions to be unfairly invoked against him. The sanctions included possible revocation of his driving privileges and the placement of liens against tax refunds.

The grand jury met with Family Support Division staff on three occasions to review standard operating procedures and inquire into the complainant's grievances. The grand jury determined that the automated accounting system does not credit overpayments submitted by the employers of non-custodial parents as part of the court-ordered payment schedule. Overpayments are applied to arrearages and are not carried over to the next month to satisfy regular support payment requirements resulting in an underpayment the following month.

The complainant had tried unsuccessfully to transfer his account to Contra Costa County. The grand jury was instrumental in expediting the requested transfer and establishing the proper balance owed upon completion of the transfer.

The grand jury continued to examine the level of client satisfaction with Family Support Division collection practices. During its inquiry into the initial complaint, the grand jury received two additional informal complaints. Both parties withdrew their complaints, but the grand jury's focus shifted from resolving the issues surrounding the initial complaint to examining overall client satisfaction.

The grand jury met with the district attorney and Family Support Division staff to discuss the development of a client satisfaction survey. The district attorney, grand jury, and the Family Support Division collaborated on the development of a survey which was distributed to a random sampling of the Family Support Division clients. (Exhibit 1) The Family Support Division further agreed to share the results of the survey with the grand jury.

The county printed and distributed the surveys ahead of schedule. The results shared with the grand jury show that parents receiving support payments are generally satisfied with the program. Non-custodial parents required to make monthly payments are often more critical of the program, but their responses have not identified any serious defects with collection policies and practices. The responses by clients will facilitate the Family Support Division's management of its resources to successfully collect payments of persons responsible for the support children.

The Family Support Division has the task of collecting court-ordered support payments and does not collect money to defray costs for managing collections. The program serves nearly 28,000 dependents. The Family Support Division's annual collections are approaching $30 million - a 200% increase in ten years (1990-1999). During that same period, staffing has doubled. The Family Support Division effectively and efficiently does its job. The grand jury thanks the district attorney for his help in assessing the levels of client satisfaction and acknowledges the professionalism of the Family Support Division's staff.

The Family Support Division program is currently administered by the district attorney. Responsibility for this collection program will be transferred from the district attorney to a new county agency on or before January 1, 2003.

© 2014 Superior Court of San Mateo County