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Parental Accountability Court begins in Henry County

Photo by Elaine Rackley: Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero (right) has implemented the county’s first Parental Accountability Court. Amero held a “Kick-off” event, Thursday. Malvin Sutton, of the county’s Child Support Services office (left), attended the event.

Photo by Elaine Rackley: Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero (right) has implemented the county’s first Parental Accountability Court. Amero held a “Kick-off” event, Thursday. Malvin Sutton, of the county’s Child Support Services office (left), attended the event.

Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero has announced the implementation of a Parental Accountability Court, whose mission is to get fathers to meet their child support obligations.

Amero said he also wants to eliminate the cycle of jailing fathers who are having difficulty paying child support. There are two groups of fathers with children, he said. Those who can pay child support, but only want to pay enough to stay out of jail. Others are unemployed fathers, he told those gathered for his announcement this week.

“Let me tell you what the view is like from the bench,” he said. “If you have the ability to pay and are not paying, I am going to find you in contempt of court, and you will go to jail.”

Some unemployed fathers are hindered in their job search, because they lack the skills, or have literacy issues, he said. Those fathers usually do not have the ability to access the job market, and eventually forfeit the financial obligations of their children.

“They give up, and giving up is not an option,” said Amero. “The [fathers] who have given up are in willful contempt. These children desperately need it ...”

The judge said fathers, who do not pay child support, appear before him in court and are sent to jail for 30 days, costing county taxpayers $1,500 for the time served.

“Let’s assume we let them out in 30 days,” said Amero. “Are they in a better position to pay child support? No. Six months later, guess who’s back on the court calendar? The Parental Accountability Court,” he said, “was born out of the frustration of this cycle. We have an opportunity to build a bridge from the non-costodial parent, to the child.”

Henry County is following other communities that have implemented a Parental Accountability Court. Amero said Hall County’s court saved that county $178,000 in incarceration costs in its first year. “It costs the county nothing, because the Georgia Department Of Human Services has generously funded a case manager to work with people they identify as being suitable for this program,” said Amero.

Tina Brooks has been named as Henry County’s Parental Accountability Court Coordinator. She has 26 years of experience working for the Georgia Department Of Human Services.

The Henry County Department of Child Support Services reported 142 outstanding arrest orders for fathers who have not paid child support. There were 235 contempt actions filed with the department.

In the month of January, 755 cases paid zero percent of their current support obligation, according to data provided by Brooks. “We hope to stop the recidivism of our chronic non-payers of child support, by assisting them to remove their barriers,” said Brooks.

Henry County Assistant District Attorney Charles “Skip” Cash has headed the Child Support Recovery unit for 15 years. “[Parental Accountability Court] is a great opportunity to help children by helping parents,” said Cash. “Because the result will be [that] they will have a more-thorough increase in payments of child support.”

Malvin Sutton, who works with child support services for the Henry County Parental Accountability Court, said he would like to see the fathers take responsibility for their children. “We have all sorts of people with different reasons why they do not pay,” said Sutton. “This is an effort to address those who have not given up.”