Millions of families are affected by child support guidelines in California. Support orders typically run 25%-50% of after-tax income. The Child Support Guideline Review (hereafter “Review”) takes place once every four years. By law (Family Code 4050 et. seq.) the courts have to conduct the review to report to the Legislature whether the Guideline results in “appropriate” child support. This all is a big deal and the review process is the primary feedback mechanism.
The Judicial Council is charged with conducting the Review. The law says that there will be public comment during the Review process and including the draft of the written report.
Since it’s in the best interests of the people of California to participate one would think that the Judicial Council would highly publicize both and encourage citizens to participate. I’m surmising that if you were in charge of this extremely important feedback mechanism you would post information prominently on websites, put flyers up in all your courthouses, send emails and letters to Department of Child Support Services customers, call press conferences, write new releases, and do whatever you could to involve as many as possible.
On the other hand what if you thought you knew best? What if you wanted to discourage public input in the final report? What if you knew the draft review omitted comments from people at focus groups who had serious concerns about the Guidelines? You’d bury it; hide it somewhere deep so the public wouldn’t find it.
Well, the draft Review is safely tucked away on the Court page www.courtinfo.ca.gov under “invitations to comment.” Thereby the Judicial Council complies with the letter of the law while making no meaningful effort to reach out to citizens for comments.
And, the Department of Child Support Services is no better. Not only is DCSS well aware of the draft Review but senior administrators gave assurances that they would post the information and encourage comments regarding the draft report, but they didn’t.
So is a Public Comment period really “public” if no one knows about it?
If that isn’t enough, there are questionable activities concerning the “private contractor” that conducted the Review. The contractor (Center for Policy Research “CPR”) was the only entity that bid for the $200k contract. The CPR staff was formerly with a private child support company (Policy Studies, Inc. “PSI”); whose founder created the Guideline that California currently uses, and was the “private contractor” for the previous Reviews back to 2001. These chummy-chummy concerns were brought to the attention of DCSS and the Judicial Council two years ago. Interestingly, it appears non-profit CPR may have split from its parent PSI to cover up the outrageous conflict of interest. It’s our understanding that CPR conducts similar Reviews for many other states.
What a racket. All with the blessing of our highest court too. Several NCFM members traveled to San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco as did many others, at considerable personal expense, to testify at Guideline Review focus groups. To have their voices stifled, their comments omitted, and their concerns discarded in the written report is a despicable display of arrogance by the judiciary and CPR. I’ve heard that the report was given to an attorney to write, an attorney who did not even attend a focus group; that is, the writing of this important report was given to someone not even involved in the public process. More arrogance, bad management, or is it a worse kind of corruption?
You still have a few days to comment. Let them know what you think.
If you don’t live in California CPR could be headed to your state soon, but not as a breath of new life.