SCIOTO —The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reports nine deaths of children while in the custody of a public children services agency since 2017. Two of those deaths occurred under the watch of the Scioto County Children Services, leading to increased scrutiny of the agency.
Mass shuffling at the top ensued, most recently placing Jason Mantell, a longtime southeastern Ohio educator, as the new executive director earlier this month. Mantell, who became the county’s fourth director in the past nine months, takes on his new job under both these deaths and the challenges of the coronavirus.
The deaths of 5-year-old, Annabelle Greene this month, and infant, Dylan Groves in March 2019 prompted sadness and anger in the county. Many commented on the Portsmouth Daily Times Facebook page that the system had failed these children.
“I understand the frustration, I’m working every day to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Mantell said. “I feel very confident and comfortable with the group we have.”
Just a week into his role, the New Boston Police Department reported that Greene had been airlifted to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus with serious injuries. The child later died at 10:47 p.m. July 8.
An investigation, coordinated by NBPD, the Scioto County Prosecutor’s Office and the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office Detective Jodi Conkel, followed and later arrested two people the following evening.
Richard Greene, 46 and his wife Sonya Greene, 38, were charged with first-degree murder and multiple accounts of assault and child endangerment. Held at the county jail, Richard and Sonya Greene are the child’s grandparents, who looked after her and two other siblings. SCCS placed Annabelle and her two brothers, age 7 and age 3, in the foster care of their grandparents around May 18.
The case still developing, Mantell said he could not disclose additional details at the moment. In regards to the Greene case, Governor Mike DeWine issued a statement July 10.
“I have directed ODJFS to conduct a full administrative review of this case, and I am grateful to the new Scioto County Children Services Director Jason Mantell for his full cooperation in this investigation,” said DeWine. “Fran (the governor’s wife) and I send our deepest condolences to the child’s siblings and family members.”
The Daily Times reached out to ODJFS for an interview concerning the Greene case. Responding via email, the department said it is working to provide training and assistance to SCCS with the goal of long-term change in the county.
DeWine also mentioned the death of Dylan Groves from Portsmouth in his statement. The infant was murdered by his parents, Jessica and Daniel Groves. This January, the jury found the couple guilty on multiple charges, giving life in prison to Jessica and 47 years to Daniel.
ODJFS looked into the case and found the county’s children services “out of compliance” with the Ohio administrative code, failing to document several meetings, not acting within the proper deadlines, and effectively cutting Dylan off from his extending family among several offenses.
“The informal assessments of risk and safety during face-to-face contacts with the family were not of sufficient frequency or quality to assess the family’s circumstances or to ensure child safety,” stated the report, which led to then-director Lorra Fuller to be placed on administrative leave in October.
In Fuller’s response, attached to the ODJFS report, she said SCCS was overworked and underfunded. The effects of the opium epidemic created an increased need for child care, but state and county commissioner funding did not rise to meet it.
“Our caseworkers were carrying caseloads that consisted of 30-50 cases per worker,” wrote Fuller. “The state recommended average is 10-15 cases per worker.”
One of the director’s primary goals is to increase communication, both in-house and with community members. The coronavirus does make this process more challenging, including implementing new training procedures, but Mantell said communication is still taking place.
Conversations among the SCCS have centered around the budget, searching for ways to expand the staff. With more staffing, Mantell hopes to expedite the training process to increase their ability to do quality work by decreasing caseloads.
“This is a extremely demanding line of work,” said Mantell. “Unless you actually experience it, it’s very difficult to explain. That’s not meant to be an excuse, but it’s just a reality.”
Mantell recognizes that both deaths hurt many in the community and damaged the agency’s reputation. The relationship can be rebuilt, he said, through increased communication and transparency. He plans on creating a public publication to answer questions and ease tensions.
“I know that none of that is going to take away what happened to Dylan or Annabelle,” said Mantell. “We have to make sure that these two young people, who unfortunately lost their lives, did not die in vain.”
SCCS and the Scioto County commissioners will hold a joint meeting July 29 at 4:30 p.m. The Scioto County Children Services are located at 3940 Gallia Street in New Boston and can be reached at 740-456-4164.
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter. © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.