Longstanding delays in the disbursement of child maintenance funds paid to the courts are primarily a function of understaffing and are a “high priority” to be resolved, according to Supreme Court Registrar Camille Darville-Gomez in an interview with Perspective.
Our interview with Gomez is a follow-up to Perspective’s initial report last week on the matter impacting hundreds of parents and their children in New Providence.
Last year, beneficiaries of child support were advised that the system of direct deposits to beneficiary bank accounts instituted several years earlier had been stopped, and that cheques for the same were to be collected at the Magistrate’s Court.
But the process became onerous for parents who have been forced to wait as long as two months at a time to receive child support funds already paid to the courts.
Mothers who contacted Perspective described the painstaking process of making repeated trips to the court only to be told that the monies they need to help provide for their children are not ready for disbursement.
When questioned by Perspective on the matter at that time, Attorney General Carl Bethel advised that the initial card program under the previous administration, which was associated with a broader facility by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), was cancelled after “faults” were found in the program.
“We are working on a program to restore wire transfer payments to debit cards owned by the beneficiary mothers,” Bethel said.
According to Gomez, the program of wire transfers should be re-instituted within the next three months as the courts work on streamlining the process for beneficiaries who do not have bank accounts.
“There are a number of reasons for the delays; one is understaffing in that you do not have enough people to perform the task required to issue a check given the volume of checks,” she explained.
Gomez pointed out that while check collection had always been the process prior to the establishment of wire transfers, the system of check processing has been changed.
“The other issue,” the registrar added, “is the matter of the [child maintenance] orders being on the file which tells us that you are entitled to this money.
“So the person who has to sign off on these checks has to satisfy themselves and sometimes the orders are not on the file, but again that is an understaffing issue because sometimes the orders are either not prepared because of understaffing or they are not getting to the file in a timely manner so that the checks can be signed off, because of understaffing.”
Gomez foreshadowed plans to introduce information technology platforms so as to be able to better utilize the staff levels that exist, given that the current check processing system is manually-based.
“It is a high priority for everyone because we understand the hardship that the delays cause on these persons,” she stressed.
Parents making the weekly trek to the courts in hopes of receiving their children’s funds were advised that wire transfers would have been re-instituted this past week.
The stress of returning to the courts only to learn that funds were not yet ready for disbursement last Wednesday proved too much for one mother, currently unemployed, who broke down in tears under the pressure of struggling to get her children ready for the start of the new school year.
“The Magistrate’s Court is the public’s court, the people’s court,” Gomez acknowledged, “and so at the end of the day what happens down there forms people’s view of the court system and so it is very important that we make sure that people feel that we are delivering service in a way that is timely and efficient.
“We are trying,” Gomez maintained, “and in another three months or so things would definitely be on an upward turn and incrementally people will see it.
“The first tranche will be people who have bank accounts and that have signed up for the direct deposits and over time we are seeking to decrease the footprint of persons having to come to the courts for check collection.”