By ABBY SOUZA
Moving up from 39th to sixth in almost any contest is something to be proud of.
That's just what the Tuolumne County Department of Child Support Services has done since the year 2000, said Linda DuTemple, the department's outreach coordinator.
"We have made a more concerted effort," DuTemple said.
Child Support Services helps people establish payments and collect money from the non-custodial spouse to help cover the costs of raising their children.
At the end of 2000, the department ranked 39th out of 58 counties in the state in overall performance, based on federal government regulations. After several improvements, such as processing cases more quickly and tracking down parents who owed money, said Child Support Services Director Adele Hendrickson, the department went to 20th in the state in 2002.
By January 2003, the county agency ranked 11th. State child support directors have done calculations of the first two terms of this fiscal year and said the county department had since climbed to sixth place.
"Adele has made a lot of changes," DuTemple said.
Hendrickson credits the rise in performance to hiring several new child support specialists, DuTemple said. Now, these specialists can spend more time on each case.
"We have over 4,000 cases here in our office," DuTemple said.
In 1999, there were up to seven child support specialists in the department. Now, there are 12.
Three years ago, the child support services office on Morning Star Drive in Sonora got a computer program called Cases. The program allows the department to file cases digitally also a time saver.
And better employee training has also helped with overall department work performance, DuTemple said.
With increased performance comes increased help to the community, said DuTemple. Child support collections have risen over the last three years. Department officials said more than $1.4 million worth of child support has been given to families in the first three months of 2003. Collections of unpaid debts have also gone up by 4.5 percent.
DuTemple said she's surprised that 90 percent of the money is going to families who are not on public assistance.
"When I first came here, most families were on aid. Now that is not the case. That is a real change," DuTemple said.
To spread the word, department employees speak at service organization meetings, classes for pregnant teens and the Sierra Conservation Center every three weeks. An ad has also been placed on the local cable channel.
"We're getting the word out that we can work with you," DuTemple said.