FROM THE CRITTENDEN PRESS, OCT. 13, 2016
After winning the same recognition year after year, it's easy to become complacent. But that's not the case in County Attorney Rebecca Johnson's child support division.
For the eighth consecutive year, the child support specialists in Johnson's office have ranked among the top-performing collection partners in the commonwealth, as determined by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS). This year, it was Pam Larue and Joana Croft who earned the 2015-16 award from Frankfort last week.
"I'm really proud this year," Johnson, who took office in January 2007, said last week of the award earned by her staff.
The winners were announced last month at a conference in Lexington hosted by the CHFS Child Support Enforcement program, which administers child support enforcement jointly with local contracting officials for all 120 counties.
"Child support is part of the foundation that grounds the building blocks of success for children – nutrition, education, health, wellness and security,” CHFS Secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes said.
Johnson's office in its first year won Most Improved for its collections. Since then, they've stayed among the top 20 performing counties statewide and top eight in counties with 1,000 or fewer cases. Livingston County Attorney Billy Riley's office was also recognized in that category this year.
Contracting officials are ranked based on their paternity establishments, the establishment of child support orders, child support collections and past-due collections. Rankings for the 2015-16 fiscal year were made based on number of active cases.
Croft has worked in the office since March. But she can already track down increasing numbers of transient parents in arrears with the best of them, said Larue.
Croft said the state’s recognition encourages her to know that hard work, no matter your location, is recognized.
As of Friday, Johnson's office had 540 open child support cases they were working.
"Juggling all the cases can be difficult," Croft said.
Work in the office and appearances before the judge in family court can make for some stressful days, particularly when you are regularly dealing with family crises.
"It can be a little disheartening," Larue said. “We want to help the custodial guardian and the (man or woman). We want to make them feel equally treated. Sometimes we can. Sometimes we can."
"It can tug at your heart strings," said Croft. "You often take it home with you."
"Then you have your good days," Larue followed.
At the end of the day, Larue, Croft and Johnson all agree, the hard work, stress and tears are all to help the children caught up in the mix.
"Pam's been a great mentor," Croft said. "She's kept me from wanting to pull my hair out."
Larue returns the compliment to her work partner.
"She's come up with an awesome system on how to keep up with all that's going on," she said of Croft.
Brenda Croft, the former office manager who left a couple of years ago, continues to pop in and offer pointers and get behind the desk from time to time in order to help Joana Croft and Larue, who's just shy of two years on the job.
"Brenda's been really good to us," Johnson said.
"She pinch hits and comes in once a week to check on things," Larue added.
Johnson said the last year has been a particularly tough time in the office. Larue was diagnosed with breast cancer just a month after being hired. She had two surgeries and missed some time and then began radiation treatment for six weeks.
"This was a real transition year for us," she said. "We lost Pam and Brenda in the course of six months."
But Larue fought through her treatments and pain to make her way back to the office. She would walk a mile before traveling every morning to Paducah for radiation and get back to the office in time to work five or six hours.
"It was pretty tough," she said.
For that effort, Larue was named the October Regional Child Support Specialist of the Month for the commonwealth, earning recognition from Frankfort and high praise.
"It was a big surprise to me," Larue said. "It was real morale booster."
Johnson said the office not only survived through the trying times but thrived due to the system that is in place.
"They have very high standards and we try to meet and exceed them," she said of the criteria for yearly recognition.
The county attorney said collecting child support does not just help the children, but makes parents responsible for the financial costs of raising them, drawing less money from taxpayers.