Fathering Court Helps Ex-Cons With Child Support

Two-thirds of children in D.C. involved in system

It's estimated that two-thirds of the children living in D.C. are involved in the city's child-support system. Yet, only about one in four of them received any payments last year, and officials now are trying a different approach to make absent fathers more accountable.

A little more than a year ago, Willie Ellis was in prison. He was serving out his sentence in the Carolinas, living life through what he calls the revolving door of prison and the outside world and falling seriously behind on his child support payments.

Today, Ellis was back in DC. Court, except this time, he was wearing the black robe. And the judge handed down, not a sentence, but a diploma. Ellis is a graduating member of D.C.'s first ever Fathering Court, a year-long program to help ex-offenders who owe child support. They learn job training, money management and parenting skills.

Ellis landed a job with the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel. Upon release, ex-convicts can face huge child support debts, which often lead them right back to prison. Judge Milton Lee, one of the organizers of Fathering Court, calls it a pragmatic approach. The focus is on the financial payments, but Ellis says re-connecting with his kids is its own reward. Thirty ex-offenders are currently enrolled in Fathering Court.

Patrick Madden reports...

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