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The Role of Support Enforcement Agencies in Identifying, Locating and Engaging Fathers in Dependency Cases

Ellen WhiteJudge A. Ellen White
Campbell County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court
Member, NCJFCJ Board of Trustees

Summary: Child support enforcement agencies help locate nonresident fathers, establish paternity and provide access and visitation grant funding to the states to establish fatherhood engagement initiatives. This article includes links to examples of four state and local court-child support agency collaborations.

The child support enforcement agency (IV-D agency) in each state may greatly assist the courts in the process of identifying, locating and involving fathers whose children have become involved in child dependency cases. The state IV-D agencies have access to several databases that can be of assistance in locating parents. These agencies further assist the courts by providing parentage testing in dependency cases to establish parentage and collecting the support obligations of parents whose children are placed in foster care. Grant funding is available through support agencies for programs to improve parental involvement with their children.

The Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) is a computerized national location network operated by the Federal Office on Child Support Enforcement (OCSE). The primary purpose of the FPLS is to assist state child support agencies in child support enforcement. The FPLS was greatly expanded as a part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (AKA “PRWORA” or “Welfare Reform”) and today provides up-to-date and accurate information concerning a party’s location, income and assets as well as other child support cases/orders.

There are three data sources for the FPLS:

  • The federal data group includes data from the Social Security Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Veterans Affairs Administration and the Department of Defense.
  • The National Directory of New Hires contains information on employment status and wages derived from each State Directory of New Hires and each state employment agency. The directory also contains information on unemployment benefits paid to individuals, including amounts.
  • The Federal Case Registry of Child Support Orders contains data supplied by each State Case Registry, which provides every case handled by that state’s child support enforcement agency and every private child support order entered or modified after October 1, 1998

FPLS data is available to authorized persons or entities not only for paternity or child support purposes but also for custody or visitation purposes. Since child dependency cases are custody cases by their nature, the FPLS is a valuable resource in these cases. Persons authorized to receive FPLS information in custody or visitation matters include state child custody or visitation officials as well as state child custody or visitation courts. FPLS data is obtained by a request through the state parent locator service. A state court in need of FPLS data in a dependency proceeding may request this information from the state’s IV-D agency.

Finally, the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement provides access and visitation grant funding to the states. Access and visitation grants are used for programs such as fatherhood initiatives, mediation, visitation exchange programs and supervised visitation centers. Applications for grant funding are submitted to the IV-D agency in each state, which administer these grants.

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has been involved, through its judicial members and staff, with the National Judicial-Child Support Task Force since its inception. The Office of Child Support Enforcement and the Administration for Children and Families created the task force to engage federal, state and tribal child support programs as well as judicial/legal systems in collaborative efforts to better serve the needs of children and families.

The following linked articles show how four states incorporate child support enforcement agencies in engaging fathers in dependency cases:

Arizona: Judge Karen S. Adam

California: Commissioner John Schroeder 

Oklahoma: Amy E. Wilson

Virginia: Judge A. Ellen White


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