Tens of thousands of parents who may have counted on healthy tax refunds got nothing last year, when the Internal Revenue Service withheld a record $1.1 billion in delinquent child support.

The refunds went instead to supporting parents and, in the case of families on welfare, to states to offset benefit payments."The Clinton administration is sending a strong message to deadbeat parents that you will not escape supporting your children," Donna Shalala, the secretary of health and human services, said in a statement Thursday.

An average of $857 was collected on behalf of 875,000 families. Collections rose 10 percent over 1995.

Under the program, in place since 1981, states send HHS the names of parents who owe child support. Those parents then are notified that their tax refunds will be withheld if they do not pay.

In 1995, a total of $15.3 billion in child support was owed nationwide on current obligations; another $35 billion in back child support was due. That includes only money courts have ordered parents to pay. If such orders were established in all cases, the figure would be much higher.

The IRS withholds a tax refund for welfare families if a parent owes at least $150 in child support. In nonwelfare cases, a parent must owe at least $500 for the refund to be withheld.

The amount withheld has increased as states get better at sending their records to Washington, HHS spokesman Michael Kharfen said.

"States are seeing this is yielding very good results, so we're getting more records, and that's enabling us to get more people," he said.

Other efforts under way to increase child support collections include a newly installed new-hire directory, where states report the names of all newly hired employees, and a computer cross-checks the list with the names of parents who owe child support.

The system is of limited effectiveness now, however, because states are not yet required to give the federal government the names of people who owe support. That requirement kicks in next fall, but some states, struggling to install statewide computer systems, will have trouble complying.

HHS also announced Thursday a waiver for the child-support program in Takoma, Wash., allowing federal money to be used to reach out to young fathers who are not living with their children.

Local officials plan a public education campaign, a self-help and mediation program, parenting classes and peer education by other young fathers, particularly for men still in high school.

"The goal is to help them achieve self-sufficiency so they can become more supportive of their children and more actively involved in their healthy development and growth," Kharfen said.

The IRS collections announced Thursday make up about 9 percent of the total $12 billion in child support collected last year by federal, state and local agencies.

Sixty-nine percent of the IRS collections were on behalf of families collecting welfare. Most states pass on a portion of the money to the families.

"Child support can make the difference for kids to rely on their parents' support instead of taxpayer-supported welfare," Shalala said.