Label the illegitimate
Activists fought for years to remove any indication from birth certificates that could stigmatize a child whose parents weren’t married, eventually convincing states and hospitals to stop. NOMADS reinstitutes the practice, requiring caseworkers to mark Y or N in a box labeled “BOW” – Born Out of Wedlock. And since it’s all part of a massive federal database, that stigma will follow the child through adulthood to the grave.
Getting the word out
The word processing system in NOMADS that generates letters, court orders, motions and other documents is so rudimentary it prints only in capital letters and so rigid it won’t allow any editing by the caseworker to fit the individual situation.
It’s so bad it even breaks words in half at the end of a line. But when counties complained judges wouldn’t accept them, the state refused to modify the system, instead creating “flexiforms” that let the counties produce documents outside NOMADS.
But “flexiforms” don’t automatically pick up the names and addressing information, which means NOMADS can’t track court orders, hearing notices, paternity hearings, or who has been notified of what. Caseworkers have to manually generate notes in each case indicating that they produced letters, court motions and other documents – just like they did in the past.
The flexiforms fix is so weak that several counties including Douglas have gone back to generating their own letters from their old WordPerfect forms.
NOMADS meets DMV
A caseworker trying to locate a “deadbeat dad” in a case used the new system to access DMV records for his current drivers’ license. The report came back with an address but, after seeing that it listed the man as 3 feet tall and 1,000 pounds, the caseworker admitted she wasn’t sure the address could be trusted.
Is the check in the mail?
The most common question a caseworker gets – from both sides – is whether the check is on its way. When caseworkers look up that information, they go to the check register. For more than a year, county officials complained bitterly they couldn’t find anything in the check register because it was sorted by the custodial parent’s zip code. The non-custodial parent wasn’t listed on the register, so there was no way to find the check using his name. That was fixed about a month ago.
One of Family Support’s most important tools for parents who won’t pay child support as ordered is wage withholding, which orders the parent’s boss to deduct the money from his check or, when that person is out of work, from the unemployment check.
In NOMADS, that deduction is automatic. One man receiving $280 in unemployment benefits was hit for 66 percent by a court order. When his case was loaded into NOMADS, it automatically applied the court order again, hitting him for 66 percent of what was left after the first 66 percent was taken. He got a check for just over $30. The state fixed that problem a month ago as well.
In entering data identifying those involved in the case, the worker has to list relationships of the different people involved. But there is no code to identify someone as an ex-husband, ex-wife, boyfriend or girlfriend. Altogether, those four labels identify nearly everyone involved in a case.
NOMADS requires caseworkers to enter many things in the form of a code throughout the program. But it uses the same code abbreviations in several different screens to mean completely different things.
For example, EF means Electronic Funds transfer on one screen but Employer Fines on another. AP designates money as an Advance Payment in one screen but an APplication fee on another screen. DP is Direct Payment on one table but an unsurrendered Direct Payment on another. CR is Cost Recovery on one table but CRedit card on another.
The problem happens throughout NOMADS. In one area BL is for blue eyes and BK for black. But BL is for black hair.
Trainers for the NOMADS system say the only way to make sure you’re using the right code at the right time is to look it up in the 900-page manual.
Social Security blanks
NOMADS won’t take a case without a Social Security number. If Mom doesn’t have Dad’s number, the program won’t let the county open a case so that a judge can order him to provide one. So caseworkers fill in those spots with zeros – 000-00-0000. “That guy’s got a lot of kids in this system,” said one Washoe worker.
When the child doesn’t have an SS number, the computer generates one for him. Then when he gets a real number, it has to be fixed because the computer doesn’t know it’s the same person.
Who’s the judge?
In a couple of places, the name of the judge handling the case must be entered. The caseworker can’t simply type it in, but must select it from a “pop-up” computer list so that the computer program can automatically put the judge’s name, court identification information, address and other coding where appropriate throughout the program.
That makes sense. But the list containing the judge’s name is the list of every lawyer in the state of Nevada provided by the State Bar Association. And it’s sorted alphabetically by first name, not last.
Because few caseworkers are on a first-name basis with judges throughout the state, they often don’t know the judge’s first name and it takes forever to find the right person.
Who gets the money?
If one man has two ex-wives he pays child support to, but one of the cases isn’t in NOMADS or has some sort of problem, his payment intended for both will all go to one ex-wife. The other won’t get a dime until her case is in the system and attached to his. So NOMADS has been concentrating for more than a month on those complex cases which involve more than one family – thousands of them.
Caseworkers say they can’t change payment schedule information more than once a day in any case or NOMADS automatically doubles the amount the non-custodial parent owes.
More frightening, they say, is when caseworkers change text information such as demographic data in an order and NOMADS arbitrarily changes the dollar amounts owed by the non-custodial parent – raising or lowering the amounts apparently at random. Caseworkers have to go back and check the ledgers after making any corrections in court order information to make sure they haven’t changed.
Welfare’s NOMADS chief Gary Stagliano says he’s not aware of any instance in which NOMADS has incorrectly changed financial information and that the problem must be with those doing the input.
In addition, NOMADS won’t allow anyone at the county level to modify an order without a judge’s identification. So caseworkers enter a phony judge ID and put a note in the case file explaining that this was a correction, not a modification.
Backpayment nightmares continue
A week ago, county officials were notified by the state that the program may be making unwanted changes in financial balances when they reopen a case and reactivate the court order mandating payment. They were still trying to determine how widespread the problem may be.
But county officials wonder: If users are just now finding a problem of that nature, what other surprises are hidden in the 10 million lines of code that make up NOMADS?
Every place in the program where a year must be entered, it’s done as a four- digit number – 1999, 2000 – except for one screen where its just the last two digits.
The custodial parent is referred to among family support workers nationwide as the CST and the non-custodial parent as the NCP. That standard is used everywhere in the program as well – except for the GEN1 screen where it’s CU for custodial parent and NP for non-custodial parent. Nothing on that screen tells the caseworker to use different abbreviations.