In a year when child-support collections are down statewide, the team that tracks down deadbeat parents in Carroll County pulled in $503,835 more than in the previous fiscal year.
That called for a pizza party yesterday at the Carroll Department of Social Services, which worked with law enforcement and courts to collect $4.7 million in support for 2,831 children during the past 12 months.
In previous years, this team found a father who had disappeared into the protective folds of the federal victim-witness protection program. Another man it squeezed for several thousand dollars later was convicted of embezzling money from the Central Intelligence Agency.
And yet another parent had spent money on a sex-change operation but fell behind in child support.
"She was a man when she was ordered [to pay child support], but by the time he was taken to court, he was a woman. She was a woman," said Jamie Wehler, supervisor of the child support unit at the Carroll County Department of Social Services.
The increase in collections this year continues Carroll County's aggressive push since 1990 to enforce the laws that require parents to support their children. Carroll social service and law enforcement workers have increased collections by about a half-million dollars a year since then.
Their key is putting children before egos so that the agencies can work together, Ms. Wehler said.
"We're talking about kids putting food on the table. How do you put your own motives above that?" she said.
The team includes members from the Carroll state's attorney office, the Sheriff's Department and the Carroll Circuit Court.
Social Services offices around the state will help anyone collect court-ordered child support, although they began the collections a way to reduce the cost of Aid to Families With Dependent Children, the state's largest welfare program. Those not receiving public assistance pay a one-time fee of $20.
Of the $4.7 million Carroll collected this year, $716,273 was remitted to the state to make up for welfare payments to the children of deadbeat parents.
While Carroll is collecting more money, statewide collections of child-support payments that will offset welfare costs are expected to be down from last year by as much as $2 million, said Kenneth Rumsey, executive director of the child support enforcement bureau in the Department of Human Resources.
Collections on behalf of parents who don't receive public assistance are up, he said, because those parents are more vocal. They call and write legislators, who then put pressure on local social service offices, Mr. Rumsey said.
The decline in collections has two causes, he said. State budget cuts have left the offices understaffed to deal with increased paperwork now required by the federal government.
Also, counties are changing over to a single computer program and method of collection and reporting, which is slowing the process. Previously, each county had its own way of enforcing child support payments.
With the paperwork and computer delays, Mr. Rumsey said, the cases that get less attention are the ones in which the children are receiving welfare. Those parents don't complain as much about non-support, he said, because the welfare payments make up for it.
"The squeaky wheel gets greased," he said.