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Penn State training institute hosts open houses for state personnel|
By Mary B. Waltman
| The Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement Training Institute (PACSETI), organized by the Penn State Justice and Safety Institute, a unit of Penn State Outreach and Cooperative Extension, held open houses in the fall at two of its new state training centers in Conshohocken, near Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. A third training center is located in Harrisburg.|
The University launched the training program in May 2002 with a three-year $10.85 million contract from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and the Bureau of Child Support Enforcement. The training institute is a collaborative partnership involving the Department of Public Welfare, Bureau of Child Support Enforcement, Domestic Relations Association of Pennsylvania and Penn State. The institute offers training and related instruction in all aspects of Pennsylvanias Child Support Enforcement Program to child support enforcement personnel.
In addition to providing the bulk of child support enforcement training to personnel located near the three major training sites, training support also is available in other regions. The Conshohocken and Pittsburgh centers include offices and a training classroom, while the Harrisburg site uses a Commonwealth classroom already dedicated to child support enforcement training.
Donald Zettlemoyer, director of the Penn State Justice and Safety Institute and PACSETI project principal, noted, With the PACSETI project, Penn State is an active and highly visible partner in this system. The Commonwealth is investing in the training institute with the intent that training will result in more effective and standardized processes throughout the 67 counties. The ultimate goal is to continually improve performance throughout the system, which in turn will impact federal incentive payments to Pennsylvania.
To date, no other state has taken such an ambitious and comprehensive approach.
The need for the comprehensive effort appears evident considering that the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement reports that nationwide more than $83 billion is due in unpaid payments to almost 20 million children. The Penn State training programs will prepare the 2,400 administrative, professional, legal and front-line staff members statewide with the education, knowledge and skills to carry out the necessary work to achieve the states child support enforcement goals.
Speaking of the child support enforcement program that evolved from federal and state legislation and law, Zettlemoyer, said, It is a complex system, and in Pennsylvania alone collections exceed $1 billion. Centralized state systems, such as the Department of Public Welfare, Bureau of Child Support Enforcement and a statewide database called the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement System (PACSES), collaborate to ensure that children receive the financial support owed them by the noncustodial parent. Ensuring that these obligations are met is obviously very important to society, families and, most importantly, Pennsylvanias children, Zettlemoyer added.
The Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement Training Institute open houses provided an opportunity to showcase the new training sites, faculty and curriculum created to prepare child support enforcement personnel to fulfill their responsibilities. Zettlemoyer noted that responses at both open houses were very positive. Directors and personnel from the Domestic Relations offices in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas, as well as representatives from the Bureau of Child Support Enforcement, took advantage of the opportunity to tour the facilities and meet with Penn State faculty members to examine and discuss course offerings.
Our faculty took the time to walk people through some of the computer-based simulations of the states data system, Zettlemoyer said. He added that an independent computer platform developed by Penn States Office of Information Systems (OIS) to mirror a very complex software system that is supported by more than 150 people in Harrisburg is very impressive. PACSETI and Penn State Management Development Programs and Services accomplished the feat by scripting scenarios that OIS could then create for the training environment, Zettlemoyer added.
Dr. Wesley E. Donahue, director of Management Development Programs and Services, said, This project is an example of the unique strengths that Penn State is able to bring together to focus on complex projects. Our role in the project centered on the design and development of the curriculum, teaching materials and the training and mentoring of the PACSETI faculty. We are seeing more organizations coming to us when they want to outsource various training functions.
According to Dr. Jennifer Mastrofski, associate professor of administration of justice for the Penn State Justice and Safety Institute and co-director of the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement Training Institute, all new personnel in child support enforcement are required to take a basic training course within six months of being hired. She noted this ensures increased efficiency, since all employees receive the same basic knowledge relevant to government policies and legislation. Employees hired before the enactment of the new-hire training requirement receive a one-week refresher course. The first training courses for new employees were held in December at the Harrisburg, Conshohocken and Pittsburgh training sites.
The two-week basic training course includes case initiation, location of family members, enforcement, paternity establishment, interstate and intrastate issues and information on the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement System, the statewide computer system that handles collection, processing and disbursement of child support payments and maintains databases on all child support activities.
Other training programs will be developed and offered for experienced workers at the training sites. The training institute also oversees judicial training, new policy training, training at professional conferences and specialized training modules for advanced and supervisory staff.
Roy H. McCullagh, co-director of Penn States Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement Training Institute, serves as program manager for the project and oversees the assignment of PACSETI faculty members who teach programs at training sites throughout the state.