The 2017 wildfires forced county departments to rapidly change the way they served the public. Many county agencies, including the Department of Child Support Services, found those changes were not just beneficial during the wildfires. They also wound up setting valuable precedents that improved services to the public during other emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
Child Support Services, among other things, helps parents establish and obtain child support payments and health care coverage for their children. This service provided crucial support to families during the 2017 wildfires, when the department had to quickly change its operations to meet clients’ needs. Because of its multilayer approach to child support and the ministerial processes of the courts and other enforcement actions, the staff at Child Support Services had to initiate new tools, collaborate with legal partners to change protocols and create new processes to provide support to families as quickly as possible – and in some situations, stop enforcement actions. Overall, Child Support Services staff went to great lengths to ensure families directly impacted by the wildfires received the compensation they deserved under the law.
For example, the department worked with the county’s Information Systems Department to map the locations of families most impacted by the fires, helping staff identify and review cases that needed immediate action. Department staff contacted families dispersed by the fires and informed them of their options to receive child support payments at an alternative address or to modify their order if they were unable to work. Staff also connected affected families with food, shelter, counseling, services for children, access to lost documents and other support resources.
Since much of the county was inaccessible after the fires, Child Support Services facilitated parents’ ability to participate virtually in meetings and child support hearings. This practice became an effective tool to provide services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The department also collaborated with the state Department of Child Support Services to help families navigate the legal process to participate in the PG&E settlement. Its work ensured families who lost their home in the 2017 fires were compensated as part of the settlement, which resolved litigation over the cause of the 2017 fires and the damage they caused.