The inaugural graduation ceremony for the parental accountability court (PAC) was held Aug. 4, in Liberty County Superior Court and before Judge Glen A. Cheney.
Judge Cheney explained that parental accountability court is designed to help people who are behind in their child support payments.
He said just placing them in jail is not a solution. The parental accountability court is an alternative to incarceration for those participants willing to go through the process.
“If somebody is working and they are paying and they are doing what they can, I’ll work with them and that is what this is all about,” he said.
PAC coordinator Trenicia Wylie PAC said it is an outreach program through the Division of Child Support Services. PAC helps non-custodial parents to overcome any barriers they may have to reach self-sufficiency. It is a program designed to eliminate the instances of incarceration. She said people think incarceration is the only end result for failing to maintain child support payments. But PAC offers them an alternative so they can start making child support payments by eliminating barriers.
The ceremony marked the first graduation ceremony for the program that was launched in 2019.
Wylie said everyone has different barriers. For some it might be a lack of proper education. For others it might be a mental health issue. She said they help get participants the educational support they need to get their GED, use the Frasier counseling center to aid those with mental health issues and help with job placement and full-time employment.
Wylie said a person who is actively in contempt of their child support status can apply and qualify for the program which could help their clients. The program runs between 12-18 months.
The last phase of the program is that they make their payments for six months consecutively and are holding a full-time job.
“This is our first graduation today,” she said. They had eight graduates, but some were unable to attend the graduation ceremony because they were at work.
With PAC each client has their own plan designed based on their individual needs. Under some plans clients may meet up once a week. Wylie follows up with others as needed.
She said her clients are grateful for the opportunity the program has provided.
Timothy King completed the program and said it was a weight lifted off his shoulders. He said the program helped him figure out what he really wanted to do in life and helped him create a plan of action.
“And holding me accountable for my actions as well,” he said.
King said he fell behind on his child support payments and had trouble sorting through the courts to get a handle on his case. He said the program got him back on track. He said he gained a lot of knowledge on the resources he never knew were available to him.
“The proper steps to get me back on track,” he said. At one point King owed roughly $20,000 in back child support. He said he has cut that down to $3,000 and continues to work on getting it all caught up.
The program helped him get a full -time job as a paraprofessional and he is working toward his degree in education.