JUSTICE: Better support for families owed child and spousal payments
Government is making changes to the program that helps families collect court-ordered child and spousal support payments. Justice Minister Diana Whalen has announced actions that will lead to stronger enforcement and better services to families.
A review of the province's Maintenance Enforcement Program was released on September 18. Government has accepted all 27 recommendations.
"Children and their families depend on these payments, and they need them on time and paid in full, every month," said Ms. Whalen. "It's clear that changes are needed to improve the program, and we are committed to making that happen. I want families to know that we are in their corner and will do everything we can to help them."
The review, Improving Client Services for Families, makes recommendations in five key areas, including enforcement. As recommended in the review, government will increase the use of existing enforcement tools, such as the suspension of drivers' licences for parents who do not pay. Cases that are difficult to enforce will be handled differently by designating staff positions to specifically handle those cases. The possibility of having a designated enforcement investigation unit to help collect payment in challenging cases is also being explored.
The review also recommends better client service through improved communication, better use of technology to manage caseloads and increased training for staff. The minister has also committed to reviewing the legislation and publicly tracking and updating key indictors to hold the department accountable.
The review acknowledges the impact of the decision to consolidate all four regional maintenance enforcement offices in one office location in 2013. The move to New Waterford resulted in significant staff turnover and time spent hiring and training new staff. With a fully-trained team now operating, enforcement actions have increased by almost 70 per cent in the last few months, compared to the same period in 2011-12.
"Premier Stephen McNeil is taking a lead role and has put this issue on the national agenda," said Ms. Whalen. "This is a priority for government, and we are taking immediate action to strengthen enforcement efforts and crack down on those parents who refuse to pay support."
The organization representing Nova Scotia's women's centres welcomed government's commitment to strengthen the program.
"We need a strong maintenance enforcement program to ensure that the well-being of children is safeguarded. Too often children and their mothers are left struggling to cover basic life necessities because the maintenance payments to which they are entitled to and depend, are not forthcoming," Georgia Barnwell, co-ordinator, Women's Centres Connect.
The Maintenance Enforcement Program Review Committee Report and the Minister's response, Delivering Better Service and Enforcement, can be viewed at http://novascotia.ca/just/mepreview/ .
See the original September 18 announcement.