Agency Culpable in Child Support Scam

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Last
week, Viola
Trevino
carried her 5-year-old “daughter” into an Albuquerque
court to satisfy a judge’s demand to produce the child.

Complications
arose.

One:
Trevino had
kidnapped
the child moments before to pass off as her daughter.
Two: the “real” daughter never existed. Three: the “father” and
ex-husband Steve Barreras had paid $20,000 in child support. Four:
the system finally noticed Trevino was lying.

New
Mexico Gov. Bill
Richardson
has asked the state’s Human Services Department for
a full report.

Specifically,
he wants to know how several government agencies became not only
unwitting partners in the fraud, but also resisted efforts to correct
it.

Richardson
deserves a tip of the hat for taking responsibility. The official
response to child support or welfare debacles is usually silence.

Sometimes
a finger of accusation is pointed at specific individuals as though
the abuse resulted from a few “bad apples” in an otherwise clean
barrel. Richardson is acknowledging there is a problem with the
system itself.

The
system is broken. In recent years, heartbreaking stories from every
state have flooded the media. Often they focus on the plight of
children who are abused or neglected by those assigned to protect
them. But just as often they highlight the abuse of parents – especially
non-custodial fathers – who are processed as paperwork, not people.

With
Trevino, several government agencies processed papers. Trevino falsified
a paternity test
by using a sample from an adult daughter who
is Barreras’ child and then had a family friend process it at the
lab. On the basis of the test, Trevino obtained a court order for
child support.

Trevino
also obtained a Social
Security card
, a Medicare card and a birth certificate for the
“daughter.”

When
a fraud is so blatant, there is a tendency to blame the victim for
somehow facilitating his or her own victimhood. But Barreras, who
works as a corrections officer in law enforcement, attempted repeatedly
to expose the fraud and to protect himself.

His
petition for a restraining
order
was denied. Evidence that his vasectomy, conducted a year
prior to the child’s “birth,” had left him with a zero sperm count,
was ignored. Phoning and writing to New Mexico’s child support agency
to have them verify his daughter’s non-existence resulted in a letter.
The child enforcement worker stated, “your daughter does exist,
as I am sure you already knew.”

Barreras
went so far as to hire a
private investigator
to expose the scam. Indeed, without his
persistent refusal to be victimized, the fraud would have probably
never come to light. It would have remained just one more injustice
tucked away and protected by the system’s closed file.

Richard
Farr of the family-oriented KRightsRadio has spearheaded an investigation
of the matter. [For an interview on this topic with Barreras' second
wife, click
here
.] Farr calls the case “an egregious example of an overzealous
child support agency who apparently ignored the alleged father’s
repeated cries … Unfortunately, too many child support agencies
are virtually accountable to no one.”

Reports
from an investigative journalist at KOBTV, Albuquerque, finally
brought enough pressure to bear that Trevino was ordered to produce
the child in court. On the day of her hearing, Trevino went to a
mall, where she convinced a grandmother and her 2-year-old granddaughter
that they should all go to see Santa Claus. Instead, Trevino took
them to the courthouse, snatched the girl, and tried to pass her
off as the missing daughter.

The
panicked grandmother could not keep up with Trevino and got left
behind in the parking lot. She stated: “I thought I was never going
to see my baby girl again. It’s the scariest thing.”

Richardson’s
question keeps rising: how could this happen?

A
partial explanation is that the child welfare system seems to automatically
favor the claims of custodial mothers over non-custodial fathers.

Consider
one scenario. A custodial mother swears under oath to have given
birth and perhaps provides false documents. In many states, if she
also swears that the absent father is violent, her statement can
result in a restraining order that de facto terminates the father’s
visitation rights. If a subsequent order to pay child support is
delivered to an invalid address, which is often provided by the
mother, then the father may not respond within the window of time
provided for a protest. Now he must pay, go to jail or endure a
process similar to the one Barreras suffered.

But
why did the child support enforcement system not follow up despite
complaints? Farr suggests an answer: “[S]ome officials see child
support agencies as revenue-generating agencies. States make money
off the collection of child support while the taxpayers lose money
at the federal level overall. Too often, this money-mindedness does
not give incentives for agencies to do the right thing for children
and families.”

The
stakes are higher than money, however. If Barreras had fallen behind
in support payments, he would have been sent to jail. His life might
have been destroyed.

Barreras
is reportedly suing to recover the $20,000. There is some indication
he may also sue other individuals who “perpetuated” the fraud. According
to Barreras’ attorney: “the parties that were involved in this fraud
will be sought. We’ve played defense. Now, it’s time to play offense.”

It’s
about time.

January
6, 2005

Wendy
McElroy [send her mail]
is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The
Independent Institute
in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and
editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

Wendy
McElroy Archives

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