Dad moves from homeless, no contact with kids to regional manager with custody

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Christopher Maestes of Prowers County used the Co-PEP program to get on his feet

When you are homeless and living in your car in a strange town, paying your child support seems like an incredibly daunting task and the least of your worries. Chris Maestas, a father of three, had little contact with his children and faced a child support system that aimed to punish him rather than help him. A new program implemented in Colorado is working to change that.

Testing a new approach

Co-PEP, the Colorado Parent Employment Project, serves populations with barriers to employment, such as being homeless, having a criminal record, or being chronically unemployed. The program aims to provide a supportive approach, including employment training, job search assistance, and help with resumes and interviewing.  It also offers parent education using the Nurturing Father’s curriculum.  Co-PEP can provide bus passes, work clothing or tools.  Staff can also help get driver’s licenses reinstated when they have been suspended for failure to pay child support.  

Co-PEP is a $2.3 million, five-year grant shared by five Colorado counties. Program enrollees participate voluntarily as part of a random controlled study.


Helping a father in crisis

Maestas had little contact with his three children, two of whom were in Colorado.  One day, he got a call from the mother’s boyfriend telling him to come and pick up his kids because their mother had left.  When he arrived, his children were gone. “If I had an opportunity to do right just this one time, I’d really try,” he said, as he set out to find his daughters.

Maestas settled in Prowers County, Colo., and struggled to survive with odd jobs. By chance, he saw a Co-PEP poster at the Workforce Center and decided to call. He has been in the program for more than 16 months now and is a manager at a local wireless cell phone provider store. He not only found his two daughters, but has reestablished and strengthened their relationship.

Anthony LaTour, the Prowers County Co-PEP Case Manager, who assisted Maestas, said that his case does not have to be a unique situation. “I think more positive outcomes in child support services would occur if intensive case management services were standard practice.  Chris worked extremely hard to get to where he is today, to provide a better quality of life for his children and family,” LaTour said.

A bleak economy

Prowers County is in the far southeast section of Colorado’s eastern plains where the population decreases each year and job prospects are few. Poverty is a serious problem, and a noncustodial parent with employment barriers has few, if any, options to get ahead.

According to the 2010 census, the per capita income in this county of about 12,500 was $14,150. About 15 percent of families and nearly 20 percent of the total population lived below the poverty line. Almost 30 percent of children live in poverty.   Co-PEP has been a beacon of possibility to noncustodial parents who face an uphill climb in rural Colorado.

Promising outcomes

Collections have been up in Colorado, although it is still early to tell whether Co-PEP is a factor. Grant manager Dan Welch says, “We see these five counties are doing better but we can’t say it’s because of Co-PEP.   A better short-term connection can be made with the program’s employment numbers, he said. In Prowers County, six months after enrollment 76 percent of the parents are employed and 12 months after enrollment 88 percent are.  However, all five counties are reporting an increase in collections that some attribute to the grant,” he said.

“It would be great if we had proof that the way we used to do it worked,” said Lynn Johnson, executive director of the Jefferson County Department of Human Services, which is another Co-PEP location. “But when you look at my numbers, you look at Arapahoe County’s numbers, when you look at numbers of other child support efforts that are doing it the new way, we’re bringing in the money. So if the intent is to punish the dad, then the old way works. If the intent is to get the money and have the dad establish a good relationship with the kids so they can co-parent, our way works.”

“If (noncustodial) parents paid their full monthly child support obligation, it would result in an increase of approximately $10 million per month (to Colorado children),” said Larry Desbien, director of the Colorado’s Division of Child Support Services. “The money could lift thousands of children out of poverty.” 

Parents who are enrolled in Co-PEP in Prowers County made a 21 percent increase in child support payments.  Six months prior to enrollment, 49 percent were paying versus 70 percent six months after enrollment.

Success one dad at a time

For Maestas, the Co-PEP program has put his life back on track, and he has come a long way from living in his car without any hope of getting ahead or seeing his children. He has worked with both mothers; one has forgiven $30,000 in back child support; the other has forgiven nearly $9,000 on her case.  Chris believes the cooperation he received from the mothers, with regard to the arrears forgiveness, is attributable to the mediation services provided by El Paso County’s Child Support/Co-PEP program.  He took his low-performing cell phone store and catapulted it to a Top Five store in the nation with sales and customer service. Maestas received a promotion to a Territory/District Manager position. 

For more information on the Co-PEP program in Prowers County, please contact Anthony LaTour at 719-336-7486 x182 or alatour@prowerscounty.net.

- Dena Pisciotte
April 7, 2016

"The idea of fatherhood for many is filled with happiness, confidence and is
the greatest reward life can offer, however that joy can at times diminish
into a black abyss, of depression, fear and a lack of hope. I say this
because I am a prime example for both ends of the spectrum. My children's
birth was the happiest and most anticipated event for me personally. Knowing
that I will have this life to protect and provide for is an overwhelming
feeling of happiness. A smaller better me, and the idea of an unconditional
love, especially for me who stemmed from a broken home. Due to an inability
to resolve issues with the mom, I was forced out of their life and child
support became a financial disaster, with no light at the end of the tunnel.
I lost my focus, I was no longer a dad, it become a monthly bill, a hit on
credit, and the loss of a drivers license. The whole widened, and the more I
pulled from the surface the more that would collapse on me. COPEP changed
that. I know had a purpose, and the reconnection with my children and
inspired me to share my story, as I know many fathers feel the same as I
did."

- Christopher Maestes

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