The Ramsey County attorney's office handles about 29,000 child support cases at any given time.

The county hopes to help some of those dads make their payments and become better parents by partnering with the FATHER Project, a program run by Goodwill Easter Seals of Minnesota. The FATHER Project was founded in 1999 in Minneapolis, and expanded in 2012 to work with dads in Ramsey, Anoka, Benton, Dakota, Hubbard, Hennepin, Olmsted and Stearns counties.

"It focuses on the whole father," said Melissa Froehle, a child support supervisor in Ramsey County.

Ramsey County is unusual in that child support is handled through the county attorney's office instead of the department of human services. The average father in Ramsey County's system owes $16,000, Froehle said.

"I don't even bat an eye at $16,000," said Trish Skophammer, assistant director of the county attorney's Human Services Division. "I've seen $100,000."

Some fathers get discouraged by mounting child support debt and give up, Froehle and Skophammer said. Traditional tools used to get them to pay child support have been penalty-focused, such as revoking driver's licenses, Skophammer said.

"They work against certain people," Skophammer said of such measures.

The FATHER Project aims to keep dads on track by guiding them through the system and providing parenting classes, employment services, résumé building and GED tutoring, among other services.

The program accepts dads between ages 17 and 35 who are low-income and unemployed or underemployed.

The Ramsey County attorney's office supplies one staff person at the St. Paul location once a week to work with dads. The county had 101 dads enrolled as of early October. Lisa Ritter, a spokeswoman for Goodwill Easter Seals, said they hope to reach 150 fathers in Ramsey County.

Services can vary between locations, but Ritter said the program is tailored to individual needs and also partners with culturally specific nonprofits.