A centralized computer system for tracking child support payments sounds like a good idea.

In fact, it was such a good idea that it was mandated by the federal government back in 1988 – yes, 25 years ago.

And, unfortunately, South Carolina is the only state that hasn’t got a system up and running yet, even after an extension was granted until 1997.

As reported Thursday, the state has severed its contract with Hewlett Packard, the vendor that was supposed to set up the system.

“What we had hoped HP would be able to deliver for us is a system that integrates all 46 county systems into one central system,” said Katie Morgan, Director of the Integrated Child Support Services Division for the state’s Department of Social Services.

But that didn’t happen.

Enforcement tools

In a perfect world, all noncustodial parents would make child support a priority, so their kids grow up with their basic needs met, as well as a strong chance at a successful life.

When a noncustodial parent doesn’t pay child support, Morgan’s division has a variety of enforcement tools at their disposal—including revoking someone’s driver’s license, a hunting license, or any professional license issued by the state.

The problem is that those processes are at least partially manual. And manual equals time-consuming.

An integrated system also would allow DSS to automate a lot of processes within the state as well as automate its interfaces with the federal government, businesses and other state agencies.

Though Morgan declined to speculate on how much time is spent on these non-automated processes, she did say that the division would like to focus on establishing good payment habits with custodial parents up front, at the beginning of the process, instead of focusing on things like unemployment benefits interception, for example, when payments aren’t forthcoming. Automated systems would go a long way toward improving that process.

DIY system

So, DSS is going to do it themselves, or at least, handle the hiring of the people to complete the system.

“We are going to take this on in-house,” Morgan said, though they may subcontract some of the work.

And it makes sense; other states have these systems, so clearly, there are programmers out there who have a knowledge base who could help South Carolina do the same.

“Hopefully by January we’ll know all of the people we need to bring on board to finish,” Morgan said.

The fact is, DSS does a pretty good job collecting payments as it is. They’ve been recognized by the federal government for meeting incentives year in and year out. But there’s no denying that automating the process would make things better.

“Our goal here is to make sure the children have the funding that they need in order to reach their full potential,” Morgan said.

The federal office of Child Support Enforcement states that ensuring both parents contribute to their children financially helps ensure that children in poor families will be kept out of poverty.

DSS is already seeing success there, and the addition of a central system should only improve their efforts.

Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or mbalog@postandcourier.com.