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Family Violence Affects Child Support

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DENVER—Collecting child support, a sometimes-unpleasant activity, can be downright risky in Indian Country, where Native women experience the highest rate of violence of any U.S. group and where those attempting to help may face danger themselves.

Family violence was among concerns explored at the 11th annual Native Child Support Training Conference June 26-30 hosted by the Northern Arapaho Tribe Child Support Program, which drew social workers and other helping professionals from tribes across the U.S.

Because more than 90 percent of women with current or former abusive partners want to pursue child support if they can do so safely, child support services should collaborate with programs that address fatherhood, domestic violence, and child welfare to reduce family violence and achieve other positive outcomes, conference organizers said.

Individuals voiced similar views. “We’re going to respect our women,” said Burnett White Plume, Northern Arapaho, from Arapahoe, Wyoming. “We’re not going to hit our women anymore. We’re going to respect our families and take care of them like we really should.”

His remarks were among those expressed during an interactive painting presentation by Bunky Echo-Hawk, Pawnee/Yakama, of Pawnee, Oklahoma, who completed a painting of an infant in a cradleboard and, with attendee input, titled it “Will You Believe in Me?”

The interactive presentation was laced with both humor and more serious issues, including attendees’ assertions that there should be recognition for single custodial fathers, respect for those in the military, restoration of Native language and culture, and change so that Indian men would step up and offer help to mothers and grandmothers raising children alone.

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In a workshop on child support and domestic violence, it was noted that there were 38,642 tribal child support cases in 2010, paternity was established for 2,355 children, and more than $31 million was collected and distributed by the tribal programs, said Tami Lorbecke, who works for Forest County Potawatomi Community, Michigan Tribal Child Support Agency.

“We serve families that are no longer intact,” she said as discussion leader. “There are a lot of emotions involved, including anger.”

Clients may be angry because they feel they have to pay too much child support or do not receive enough child support, or they may be angry because “She doesn’t let him see the kids, or he won’t come to see the kids.”

Abusers may use child support as a way to maintain or regain control over their victims, by saying, “You’ll never get a penny of child support if you leave me,” or “I’ll get custody of the kids if you leave or if you go for child support,” she noted.

Some abusers have no interest in their children until ordered to pay child support, when they suddenly demand visitation and may use the opportunity to assault or harass the victim, she said.

Tribal child support staff must have knowledge about domestic violence to keep their clients safe and to keep themselves and their staff safe, she said, recalling threats made to her at another agency and a nonfatal instance when a man cut his own throat in front of his children.