PORTSMOUTH — After two deaths in the care of Scioto County Children Services within the past 17 months, many are calling for a safer community for children. At Thursday’s Scioto County Commissioners meeting, the commissioners felt this need could be met by having more foster care parents.
“There’s a lot of people in this county that have the means and have enough love in their hearts, we desperately need foster parents,” Commissioner Cathy Coleman said, where the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reports 56 homes house the 266 children in the SCCS system. “We’ve had a lot of people reach out and offer to help. If you have the means to be a foster parent, please consider doing so.”
Long discussed in the county, there is a high need for foster care due to the opioid epidemic, which caused 79 overdose deaths in 2019 according to Ohio Department of Health. Governor Mike DeWine, then serving as the Ohio Attorney General, brought the issue to attention in a 2017 press conference with Scioto County media.
“We have kids who are born addicted, we see that here in Portsmouth. We have seen the ramifications, some have developmental problems, some don’t. We’ve seen the foster care in Scioto County more than double, which is staggering,” said DeWine.
People like Melissa Bennett responded to the need after witnessing the problem firsthand in her Minford classroom. Taking in nine children for varying time periods since June 2017, Bennett said the job requires the right mindset and a strong support system.
“It definitely should not be something that people get into for the money,” said Bennett. “If you only take two or three (children), then make a difference in those two or three.”
Foster parents receive $27.50 a day, a standard set by the county for each child in their care, the ability to increase that pay if their child has specific needs or is a teenager. Without help from family or friends, Bennett said the stipend doesn’t amount to much and would disappear quickly.
This amount is not the same for those in the ODJFS kinship program, who earn $505 a month. One caregiver in the kinship program, who wished to remain nameless, takes care of three children on this amount. If this person were to be operating on the county standard, they would collect $2,475 a month, nearly five times more than they currently make.
This caregiver has researched the topic extensively, reaching out to the offices of the governor and Representative Brad Wenstup, and said they have not received an answer to this pay disparity. The Portsmouth Daily Times requested this information from ODJFS, but had not seen a reply as of Sunday.
Bennett said the state’s goal for those in children services care to be reunified with their biological parents is misguided at times and can have dangerous impacts. In the case of Dylan Groves, the perpetrators were the child’s parents and had regained custody.
“I think the foster parents should be given more consideration in that aspect,” she said, feeling that wants of the biological parents come before those of the child and foster parent.
After being separated, the reunification process requires the biological parents to meet several standards. Within a year, ODJFS requires them to attend parenting classes, do drug tests, obtain or at least look for unemployment, and to have a safe place to raise a family.
According to the ODJFS reunification assessment, a child could “return to a home where threats of serious harm exist if these threats can be controlled within the family.” Sometimes it is not just the threat, said the caregiver, but also a reminder of a sordid past which makes this process particularly challenging to the child.
The children in the kinship caregiver’s care were taken out of their home by SCCS in 2018, a home where they were physically and sexually abused. Each weekly meeting with their parents during the reunification process was like “ripping a Band-Aid off from a wound.”
“They have seen things that adults shouldn’t see,” said the caregiver, where an environment of drugs and sexual trafficking caused significant trauma to the children. “Their living conditions were deplorable and the kids were not safe.”
Even now, when the caregiver has permanent custody of the children until they are 18, they sometimes have to stay the night with their parents who had abused them. The caregiver does not completely oppose the reunification process but would like to see a different approach.
“It’s putting the kids back into the situation where they were removed from,” she said. “It’s not in the best interest of the children to be reminded weekly of what they had to go through.”
During the Commissioners meeting, Davis referred to the new SCCS director, Jason Mantell, as a “change agent” and is confident he and the board will turn things around. Still, the commissioner said for those that look after foster children, SCCS will have to take considerable steps to gain their trust.
The kinship parent also feels that Mantell is determined for reform, but her past with SCCS still makes her leery. If it wasn’t for the parents leaving the county, granting jurisdiction to another children services department, she thinks the end result for her children would have been different.
“Had they continued to live in Scioto County, I do not think that SCCS would have removed the children,” she said. “I just thank God that they left the county, otherwise I do feel that they would have been alongside baby Dylan and Annabell.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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