Dithering on deadbeats

TheStar.com – Opinion – Dithering on deadbeats
September 09, 2008

Every child deserves parental support. It should be a right, not a frill or a privilege. Yet thousands of Ontario children of broken marriages are being denied their due, despite repeated provincial vows to crackdown on deadbeat parents. As the Star’s Daniel Dale reported on the weekend, the problem is getting worse, not better.

According to the Family Responsibility Office, which is supposed to ensure that delinquent parents make their child support payments, children have been collectively short-changed to the tune of $1.45 billion by the end of the last fiscal year, up from $1.1 billion four years ago. This despite the vow of the Liberal government at Queen’s Park to put the issue on “the front burner for change.”

Since its creation by the previous Conservative government in 1997, the Family Responsibility Office has fumbled its mission to enforce child-support orders. It is, to be sure, a tough job. Parents who are determined to avoid child support have proven to be exceedingly difficult to track down and force into meeting their obligations. But the office also bears some blame for the failures. Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin found in 2006 that the office had a “lackadaisical” attitude toward collections, resulting in a “free ride” for deadbeats.

The office’s computer system was identified as a major problem more than a decade ago, but a flawed system remains in use and likely won’t be fully replaced for another three years. That seems an inordinately long time to fix bad technology, especially since it could affect children’s well-being.

The province must do better if it is to effect meaningful change in this area. As much as money and staff, more political will may be needed to get the job done.

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