Marathon County Child Support :: Changing Negative Perceptions to Positive Outcomes for Children and Families

Written by Leah Griesbach

It’s safe to say that 99% of people either have a negative or indifferent opinion of Child Support. This indifference may come from a lack of interaction with child support services all together, while negative opinions tend to stem from the fact that people don’t usually desire to have a relationship with a child support agency in the first place. 

Families don’t typically anticipate separations, divorces, or unplanned pregnancies, which means that almost every client that needs child support services is going through a pivotal moment in their life. The historic culture of child support services nationwide may also contribute to the negative perception. Statutes, policies, and procedures that were created and implemented to prioritize the most efficient ways to collect child support payments led to a pattern of focusing on cases as numbers which means connecting with clients on a personal level was not a priority.

The Marathon County Difference

Despite all the challenges and obstacles, Marathon County Child Support and it’s agency partners were looking for a chance to make a change and along came the ELEVATE grant. ELEVATE offers an opportunity for a child support agency to connect with non-custodial parents to learn about and address barriers that are preventing compliance with court orders.  The hope is that assisting with employment, parenting education, and altering child support services will result in non-custodial parents becoming stable, maintaining employment, exercising parenting time, and financially supporting their children.  Prior to ELEVATE, Marathon County Child Support independently opened lines of communication and began the provision of services beyond the historical scope of business. Marathon County’s early adoption of working with individuals in a more engaging way led to success in receiving the ELEVATE grant. This multi-year systems change demonstration grant focuses on four core areas of service:  Employment Services, Case Management Services, Parenting Services, and Enhanced Child Support Services.

The ELEVATE Approach

When a client enrolls in the ELEVATE process, the first step is to discuss what is going on in their life that is impacting them and their family. This discovery process looks at needs in the areas of: basic living (are they homeless, is housing unstable, are they in need of beds, food, health insurance, etc.), employment, medical, parenting, and whether they are exercising visitation with children. Goals and action steps are formulated in collaboration with clients so that barriers can be addressed. Common goals for clients include coordinating visitation with children, obtaining employment, procurement of a driver’s license, or enrolling them in a parenting class that involves a 10-week in-person class and 10 one-on-one hands-on parenting workshops. Clients receive regular check-ins and long-term support to encourage them in their growth and progress. 

Despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Marathon County has seen amazing success during its two and a half years of participation in the program with more than 224 individuals enrolled. These successes and trends have allowed child support staff to evaluate and alter some services to better suit clients while learning new ways to engage clients and meet them where they are at. Due to the success of this new approach, child support staff is incorporating what they have learned across the whole team, instead of only those who work with the grant. It’s rewarding for the team to see a large majority of ELEVATE participants actively employed, improving parenting skills, and visiting and connecting with their children after receiving services.

The Next Steps

So, what’s next? The Elevate program outcomes are being formally evaluated by the state. In 2023, the state will assess all delivery models and formally review the most efficient and beneficial way to provide similar services across the whole state.  Marathon County Child Support is excited to continue their work over the next 2.5 years of the grant cycle and remain dedicated to improving services provided to children and families of Marathon County!

For basic information on Marathon County’s Child Support program, please visit:

Leah Griesbach

ELEVATE Coordinator  |  Marathon County Department of Social Services

Leah Griesbach serves Marathon County as the ELEVATE Coordinator for Department of Social Service’s Child Support Program.  In this role she works with families in Marathon County to encourage compliance with child support orders.  Her previous experience with case management, financial counseling, and housing counseling has allowed her to assist families with a wide range of services.  Outside of work, you’ll be able to find Leah spending time with her husband and young children, enjoying local restaurants, or listening to podcasts. 

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