Born out of one parent's frustration, ACES - the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support - was founded in the spring of 1984. The organization has grown to be the largest group of child-support advocates in the country.
Geraldine Jensen founded ACES because she was angry at the Ohio support recovery system. She had provided investigators with her husband's address, Social Security number and place of employment.When, after several years, she demanded action, an investigator told her, "I'm so tired of you women coming in here whining and complaining. I'd like to see you do any better."
"That's the day ACES was founded," Jensen said. "I left his office and put an ad in my local newspaper: NOT RECEIVING CHILD SUPPORT? CALL ME."
Nine women and one man called.
Six years later, ACES is a fast-growing non-profit organization funded entirely from donations (the Catholic Church is a major donor) and has chapters in 43 states.
When Geraldine Jensen, still the national president of ACES, visits the Salt Lake chapter next week, she will advise Utah parents on how to collect the child support due them.
In a telephone interview, Jensen said she was concerned about Utah's recent record of child-support collection.
Quoting from the latest report (1988/1989) from the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, Jensen said, "Families in Utah have $241 million due them in child support. The state collection agency (the Bureau of Recovery Services) got $36 million of that, or 14.9 percent of what's due. That's below the national average of collections, which is 19.7 percent.
"You guys are definitely in the bottom third of the nation as far as child-support collection goes. We need more ACES chapters in this part of the nation, I can tell."
Terry Twitchell, spokesperson for the Department of Social Services, explained the federal statistics, saying that Utah's Bureau of Recovery Services has an excellent record on collecting support due to children on welfare.
"Utah has led the nation in AFDC case recoveries for the last seven or eight years," Twitchell said. "We've been very successful in those cases that were costing the state money."
In the past few years, however, state child support collectors have expanded their services to help all parents who are owed back child support. "Because they've just started, they've not matched in the non-AFDC area what they've been able to achieve with the AFDC cases," Twitchell said. "Our staff is swamped."
Richard Hansen, quality assurance specialist with the Bureau of Recovery Services, says Utah has a fairly good record of recovery on both AFDC and non-AFDC cases, "but we can only be effective when we know the whereabouts of the absent parent."
The Bureau of Recovery Services' total caseload is 58,625, Hansen said, but investigators know the whereabouts of the parent in only about half those cases.
Jensen believes ACES members, armed with knowledge and the support of other parents, can improve their chances of collecting. "Seventy percent of folks who get involved in ACES collect their support," she says.
"I'd been told I was an impossible case," she said. But in 1984, three months after she started ACES, the state recovery agency in Toledo, Ohio, sent legal documents to her ex-husband and he hasn't missed a payment since.
"Then in 1986 I collected all $12,000 of back support he owed, by attaching (garnisheeing) an insurance check he was receiving," Jensen said.
"If it could happen for my two kids, it could happen for other kids."
After not getting any child support for seven years, after being on and off welfare, after struggling to get by, Jensen said, it was wonderful to start getting $250 a month in child support and to be able to buy her sons a bicycle and pay their registration fees for Little League.
But just as important as the money, she believes, was the lesson she taught her sons by her efforts to collect child support.
"I didn't want them to grow up to think it was OK to ignore your obligations. I think it's important for all families to take action."
Jensen said she'll tell Utah parents everything she's learned about child support. "I'll talk about their legal rights - what's available under existing law and how to get the system to act on the law."
In addition to the nation's collection problems, Jensen is concerned about the amount of child support being awarded by the courts. "A government study shows the average car payment is higher than the average child support payment," Jensen said. "Which is appalling."
Utah ACES will meet
Geraldine Jensen will speak Saturday, May 19, and Sunday, May 20, on new federal laws governing child support and how parents can get the system to work for them. She'll be at the Bryman Education Center, 1144 W. 3000 South, West Valley City. The conference is free and open to the public beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday and at 10 a.m. Sunday. For more information, call the Bryman school at 975-7000 or Katherine Kunzi, local ACES coordinator, at 266-8574.
Best, worst states at collecting support
States Support Collections Percent
Due* Received* Received*
1.South Carolina $62 $52 83.9 percent
2.Connecticut $118 $75 63.6 percent
3.Texas $220 $120 54.5 percent
4.Rhode Island $35 $18 51.4 percent
5.Arizona $63 $30 47.6 percent
41.Utah $241 $36 14.9 percent
42.Mississippi $183 $25 13.7 percent
43.Kansas $265 $36 13.6 percent
44.Oklahoma $223 $30 13.5 percent
45.New Jersey $2,286 $286 12.5 percent
46.Missouri $653 $74 11.3 percent
47.South Dakota $53 $6 11.3 percent
48.Kentucky $486 $54 11.1 percent
49.Montana $81 $8 9.9 percent
50.Wyoming $97 $6 6.2 percent
*Collections due for current and previous year; dollars are in millions.