The small group of people who met at Fort Totten in Bayside Saturday morning had different stories to tell but one goal in mind: overcoming the difficulties of collecting child support.
Clutching styrofoam cups of coffee, the woman listened intently during the Child Support Collection Forum sponsored by the Queens Women's Center, state Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside) and the East Queens Association for Children for Enforcement of Support, a group known as ACES.
Before the meeting, Mary Tripp of the New York state chapter of ACES, said parents must organize to improve the enforcement of child support collection laws already on the books.
"It's about public awareness for child support," she said. "We must organize parents."
Carrozza, who attended a similar meeting last year, said she became aware of the issue after she received a letter two years ago from a constituent in Whitestone who had difficulty collecting child support.
"She said she was feeding her two kids cereal and water," Carrozza said. "I read this letter and I was floored."
Since then Carrozza has been working on a bill that would tackle what child support enforcement advocates describe as a huge problem: non-custodial parents who are self-employed or who work "off the books."
Eugene Crowe, a Ridgewood attorney who sits on a state court--appointed panel to help people find their way through the Family Court system, said collection of child support is more difficult if the non-custodial parent works for cash tips or is self-employed.
"Queens is a perfect example" of the problem, he said. "There is such an influence of immigrants, and a lot of these people don't have regular 9-to-5 jobs."
If those people do not declare all of their income and decide not to pay, he said, the possibility of enforcing child support orders is slim.
Ann Jawin, director of the Queens Women's Center, said "we're here to help women in whatever their needs are, and this question of child support is surely an overpowering one.
"I still don't think many women are aware that there is help out there," she said.
Tripp said ACES acts as moral support for woman going through the child support collection process. The non-profit group's goals include: advocating for federal and local laws to support the enforcement of child support collection; informing parents of the rights and options during the process; providing moral support in the courtroom; and information about laws in different states if a parent who does not pay child support moves away.
As women who attended the forum Saturday told of the difficulties they faced with local judges, Tripp suggested a meeting between ACES reps and the supervising judge of Family Court in Queens to iron out the problems.
"Queens has to get together," she said. "It's not going to be easy. You have to fix the whole - you have to fix it for everybody."
To contact ACES, which meets in Fresh Meadows and Ridgewood every month, call 718-821-6271 or go on-line to www.childsupport-ACES.org.
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