MICHIGAN CITY — Child support is never a comfortable topic, neither for the custodial parent or the one ordered to pay financial support. But some county and city officials are trying to change that – making that discussion more open and casual by having it at a barbershop.
“Child support services are available to both parents to serve the best interests of the child,” said Tracie Tillman, a member of the Michigan City Commission on the Social Status for African American Males and administrative office supervisor for the La Porte County Prosecutor’s Child Support Division (IV-D office).”
“However, many non-custodial parents perceive child support favors custodial parents.”
Not true, Tillman said. “The elected prosecutor, John Lake, represents the State of Indiana and the best interests of the child in Title IV-D child support cases, not the parents.”
The county Child Support Office (LPCO) and the Commission on the Social Status for African American Males are co-hosting The Barbershop Talk Initiative to “collaborate and break down barriers with men in the community who feel disconnected,” she said.
“The goal of these talks was to open up a safe space for males of the community to voice opinions, experiences, and concerns regarding child support.”
Some patrons shared their experiences of receiving a child support order and collecting back child support (arrearages), while others knew someone with general questions about the process of pursuing child support.
Marvelous Cuts Barbershop hosted the first conversation in June. Owner Mark Wright called it “a much-needed conversation that should be discussed on a bigger platform.”
The LPCO is “a public service open to all parents,” Tillman said. “Parents simply apply for services online or at the LPCO [300 Washington, Ste. 10, Michigan City]. The program is available at the participants’ discretion but is mandatory if a custodial parent is receiving cash assistance from TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needed Families].”
During the program, Tillman asked, “What is it going to take to get young fathers to engage in an open dialogue about child support?”
One of the barbers answered, “The youth don’t think it’s important and they don’t want to take the time to find out. Not until after they are served with child support papers.”
The second program was held last month at Kuttin Up Beauty and Barbershop in Michigan City.
Jamaal Taylor, a parent and program participant offered some advice for the hosts: “The full spectrum of child support should be considered, not just the financial side,” he said. “And offer more parenting programs.”
Everyone who took part thought it was a “great experience,” Tillman said, and the owners of Marvelous Cuts and Kuttin Up Beauty and Barbershop suggested a larger forum in the future for the Barbershop Talk: Child Support series.
Tillman – a member of the National Child Support Enforcement Association who will be part of the Indiana Child Support Annual Conference Planning Committee for 2020 – said the goal of the program is “to bring the community together to support our kids. It starts with discussions like this!”
Parents can contact the Child Support Office with questions or concerns Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. by calling (219) 874-5611, ext. 7820.
Plans are being made for the next Barbershop Talk later this month.
—From staff reports