Q&A: Rob Wells, President of YoungWilliams Child Support Services
by Amy McCullough
Published: September 11,2011
Wells says job is much more than just collecting money
Rob Wells and his law partners started YoungWilliams Child Support Services in Jackson in 2000. The company has now grown to work in 12 states, contracting with state governments to perform various aspects of child support services, and has revenues of more than $50 million. YoungWilliams has 850 employees nationwide and about 40 offices. Wells earned a bachelor’s degree from Millsaps College and a law degree from Ole Miss. He and wife, Pam, have one daughter, Emme. Rob was recently recognized as the 2011 Private Sector Individual of the Year by the National Child Support Enforcement Association.
Q — How did YoungWilliams Child Support Services get started?
A — We started as a traditional law firm here in Jackson. In the ‘90s Gov. Kirk Fordice privatized part of the child support program of Mississippi, and the legal work was subcontracted to us. Once that project closed, I enjoyed the child support program so much that I decided to look for work outside Mississippi. Our first contract was in 2000 in Nebraska where we currently handle 35,000 cases and a statewide call center. From there we simply expanded to 12 states.
Most people think of “child support” in the traditional sense of just collecting money. However, this is a national program created in the ‘70s to reduce welfare dependency, identify fathers for support, reduce illegitimacy rates, and promote family values. We do all that for the states we represent.
Q — What do you do for Mississippi currently?
A — We currently operate Mississippi’s customer service center for all child support cases where we handle over 100,000 calls a month. The professional relationships we have at MDHS (Mississippi Department of Human Services) allow us to exchange ideas and best practices.
Q — What can an effective child support program do for society?
A — The focus of the program is for parents to financially support their own children and rely less on government support. A key part is to identify fathers so they will be part of the lives of their children. If done effectively, “word on the street” ought to be: “If I don’t support my child, the child support program will make me do it. No exceptions.”
Q — How do YoungWilliams’ services differ from what a regular child support lawyer does?
A — They might go to court and handle a few cases by entering a wage withholding order or try to seize assets. Their tools are limited. The child support program can do so much more. For example, we have tools like the national new hire database where every new employee in the nation is compared to the child support national database. So, if someone owes child support and gets a job on a fishing boat in Alaska, the computer sees it and a wage order is mailed and enforced automatically. It gets better. All IRS tax refunds go through the computer, and back child support is seized. The same goes for workers’ comp, unemployment benefits, bank accounts, etc. Another great tool is suspension of licenses for driving, hunting, practicing medicine, etc. We even have systems to automatically identify personal injury claims and intercept those payments. This is all very different from what a private lawyer can do, and is how the program can effectively handles hundreds of thousands of cases. We simply help run these programs for government.
Businesses can help by reporting all employees to the new hire database and not paying employees “money under the table.” If an absent parent has a job and employers follow the law, we can collect child support in almost every case.
Q — What is the cost structure of a state child support program?
A — It’s a federally mandated program in every state and is a condition of welfare program funding. The federal government pays for 66 percent of all costs plus the state receives incentives equal to about another 10 percent of the costs. Also, if the child is on Medicaid or food stamps, the state can collect some of those costs back from the absent parent. If a state is real good at the program, it can end up with a total net savings to the state and cost nothing.
The biggest saving is in reducing government’s welfare costs. Every person applying for food stamps, Medicaid and other benefits have child support counted in their income. This reduces eligibility for benefits and saves government money. The studies show that for every dollar state and federal governments spend in child support collection efforts, there is a direct taxpayer savings of about $1.25. It’s a big deal in reducing welfare costs and in moving people to self sufficiency.
Q — Explain how a child support program runs like a large business.
A — These are big programs with lots of moving parts. Good state programs have a customer service center, a center to receive and disburse money, a centralized computer system and lots of people who know what they are doing. Our firm literally receives and disburses hundreds of millions in child support and handles millions of phone calls each year for our clients using the same tools used by large business. We have to run it a lot like a business to be cost effective. Like business, we must compete for work, continually improve and be the most efficient to stay in business.
Q — How do you help improve a state or county child support program?
A — First, we figure out the problem. It could be lots of things, but usually it’s one or two things we see over and over. Then, we go in, rework the systems, and apply techniques that have succeeded elsewhere.
Q — What are the goals of YoungWilliams Child Support Services?
A — This is a great business. Our goal is to provide the best child support services in the nation. We’re currently planning, hiring and building for substantial growth from our base here in Jackson.
More on Wells:
Favorite Movie: “Fiddler on the Roof”
Favorite Food: The fish at the Saturday lunch at Biaggi’s
Favorite Book: “John Adams” by David McCullough
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