Apr 19 2021

How a Domestic Relations Agency Meets Child Services Demands Remotely

In Montgomery County, Pa., the county’s CIO office works closely with case managers to field telework technology as required.

Prior to the pandemic, about 200 employees and members of the public reported daily to the offices of Montgomery County Domestic Relations in Norristown, Pa., to handle child support orders and related tasks. 

Once employees were forced people out of the county’s offices, they began working from home, contacting clients via email and phone, holding virtual hearings and providing services, says Rebecca Colantuno, compliance manager for Montgomery County Domestic Relations.

“It has shifted our mode of operation in such a way that we didn’t ever picture having to do. Being such a public office and having that constant interaction, we weren’t sure how this was going to pan out. It’s been quite a road,” Colantuno says. 

The office supports genetic testing to establish paternity, files applications for child support orders and disseminates information to the public. Now, Montgomery County Domestic Relations holds no in-person meetings with the public but fulfills the same services.

“We have the same number of clients applying for support services. We’re enforcing quite a few orders. In fact, we’re actually much more effective in some ways now. We have much more participation from our clients now, virtually, than we did when we were scheduling in-person conferences and having in-person meetings, ” Colantuno says. 

Child support services continue thanks in part to assistance from the office of Montgomery County CIO Anthony Olivieri. Olivieri and his staff ensure Montgomery County Domestic Relations has the technology required to operate remotely, including virtual desktop infrastructure and laptops to access the operating environment.

CIO Office Supports Teleworkers Providing Critical Citizen Services

The county CIO’s office developed a strong working relations with Montgomery County Domestic Relations to anticipate the division’s needs, Colantuno says. The CIO staff works to resolve any tech challenges quickly.

“A perfect example of that is that we have a customer service unit, and it’s all phone operated. Trying to get that up and running for our remote workers was quite the challenge, and that happened last summer. It was probably the biggest challenge we faced to get our entire office up and running remotely,” Colantuno says.

She adds, “The CIO has been absolutely tremendous with what we’ve needed, technologywise. We have actual desk phones that our employees are able to use at home now. It’s as if they have the office with them.”

Critically, teleworkers also can access a VMware VDI solution, which provides them with all of the applications they require to do their work. “Without VDI, child services could not establish a case and enforce orders in a timely fashion,” Colantuno says.

“Without having the laptops and having the equipment for our individual employees, and without access to VDI, we would not be able to provide the public with the opportunity to establish support, to have those orders enforced so that the children are getting the funds and the money that they deserve and that they need in order to operate in such a time. It’s a very difficult economic time,” she says.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Explore how AI can help states manage an unemployment crisis. 

Increased Citizen Participation Follows Virtual Operations

The pandemic knocked many people out of work, producing new challenges for Montgomery County Domestic Relations, which enforces child support orders. The county saw record unemployment in 2020 due to the pandemic.

“We attach unemployment benefits for the payment of support, and the amount of unemployment funds we’ve received in 2020 is a record in the 17 years I’ve worked with domestic relations. We’ve never received that number of funds from unemployment benefits,” Colantuno says.

As a result, some parents weren’t able to pay in support of original orders, and the county domestic relations office convenes conferences to evaluate how to move forward. Sometimes, it modifies child support orders to provide relief. 

“We’ve been able to facilitate that and be that intermediary in a very difficult economic situation between parties,” Colantuno says. “You’re dealing with children, you’re dealing with families, you’re dealing with livelihoods. We have been able to address these issues with clients on a timely basis so they’re not having to wait months. That has been absolutely vital.”

With remote work tools, Montgomery County Domestic Relations also has been able to reach and to help even more people than before, she says. The office receives more documentation now than it did when it met clients face to face. 

“It’s been a great opportunity for the public to actually participate more. They’re participating more now than they did when we would have the office open,” Colantuno says. “It’s easier when people do not have to take a day off of work or to find child care. They can be available for a phone call or Zoom hearing. And without the CIO and all that they’ve been able to do to get us up and running, we wouldn’t be able to do that for our clients.”

Getty Images/ Vitalii Petrushenko