Thursday, March 14, 2002
Noncustodial Parents Becoming More Involved Due to Federal Grant Program, Judicial Council Report Says
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
A federal grant program designed to expand the services state courts provide to families with children has greatly increased the access and involvement noncustodial parents have in their children’s lives, according to a Judicial Council report to the state Legislature.
Launched five years ago, the program was designed to help parents and children in families going through a separation or divorce to stay in contact with each other.
In 1999, the Judicial Council was given the responsibility by the state Legislature for administering and distributing the federal Child Access to Visitation Grant Program funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The grants were established by Congress in 1996 as part of a comprehensive new “welfare reform” plan aimed at improving the relationships and connections between custody and visitation arrangements, child support payments, noncustodial parent involvement, and the child’s well-being.
Since 1997, the federal government has awarded a total of $10 million annually in block grants to all the states to promote the access and visitation programs in state courts.
California, which has the largest number of single heads of households in the country, receives the largest grant, approximately $1 million a year.
In approving AB 673, the state Legislature also narrowly limited the way California courts could use the grant money to: supervised visitation and exchange services, education about protecting children during family disruption, and group counseling services for parents and children.
Those services are now available, either on a free or low-cost sliding scale, in approximately 30 of the state’s 58 counties where previously limited or no services existed, according to the Judicial Council’s report.
The grant program has also allowed 15,000 parents to come in contact with their children since its creation.
The report also found that many of the state’s supervised visitation and parent education programs that were established with the grant money have become “best practice” models that can be used as pilot projects nationwide.
While the report did not make any formal recommendations, it did suggest that the Legislature consider expanding the program’s services to courts that are not currently funded, especially in rural areas, establishing mandatory training and education requirements for service providers, and looking ahead to find funding to accommodate the increasing demands of the court and of parents struggling with access to visitation disputes.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company