- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2000

BALTIMORE Maryland is offering one week of amnesty for deadbeat parents to pay back some or all of what they owe in child support without fear of arrest in an effort to collect some of the estimated $1 billion in arrears.
Amnesty 2000, which runs today through Friday, will give parents "a chance to get the slate clean," said Teresa Kaiser, executive director of the Maryland Child Support Enforcement Agency.
It's the first such statewide effort in the country, Miss Kaiser said, although some Maryland counties have held similar programs. At the same time, an amnesty week also will be offered to parents in the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia.
In Maryland, some 120,000 parents nearly one of every three parents who have been ordered to pay child support are in arrears, Miss Kaiser said. The overdue payments average about $6,800 each.
"The folks that get behind get really behind," Miss Kaiser said.
During this week, parents can come into child-support offices and pay off what they owe, or make a "good-faith payment" with the promise of keeping up in the future.
The state also will offer to connect troubled parents to other state services, such as helping the unemployed find work or facilitating treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.
"The point is to let us know what's gone on with you," Miss Kaiser said. "If you've been unemployed or disabled, we don't know that unless you share that with us."
Miss Kaiser said the week was intentionally timed to coincide with the start of the school year, because the costs of new clothes, book bags and school supplies can add up.
"It's really a painful experience because you know you can't offer your child the same things as other parents," she said. "It's really heartbreaking."
But getting deadbeat parents back on track with financial support is just half of it, Miss Kaiser said, because chances are if they are not paying, they are not emotionally involved in the child's life either.
"Parental support both financial and emotional is a fundamental right every child in Maryland deserves," Gov. Parris N. Glendening said in a statement. "Amnesty 2000 is a way of encouraging parents to do the right thing by giving children what they need to grow and thrive."
Children that are raised entirely by a single parent have a higher likelihood of dropping out of school, suffering from low self-esteem, having out-of-wedlock births or engaging in crimes, Miss Kaiser said.
"If the goal is to promote positive father involvement, then that would be an outcome we would support," said Marla Besser, a policy analyst for the Alliance for Children and Families, a nonprofit, Washington, D.C.-based child-advocacy group.

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