SCIOTO — The final item on the Scioto County Commissioners’ agenda was one that Commissioner Bryan Davis said the board had been pursuing for a long time.
Up to this point, the Scioto County Prosecutor’s Office had a part-time attorney working alongside Scioto County Children Services in abuse and neglect legal proceedings.
This attorney had his workload cut out for him, affected by a Juvenile Court backlog and a high number of legal cases. Now through a resolution providing $210,000, the office will be able to add a full-time attorney and secretary.
“This has been something that has been needed,” said SCCS Director Jason Mantell during the Thursday morning meeting. “We’ve had a lot of discussions between the commissioners, the prosecutor’s office… so that’s why I thought it was very important to come today and just give a public thank you.”
The announcement comes just eight days after a Scioto County jury found a Lucasville woman guilty on multiple counts of child endangerment. As previously reported by the PortsmouthDailyTimes, Mary Beth Ann Carver had priors dating back to 2003 before the August 2020 incident.
Working on cases like these becomes all the more challenging when considerations for case loads are made, Mantell saying that county caseworkers have a total of approximately 340 children in their care. The closest county in terms of overall population has 130 less children under their watch.
“We were overloaded, and that’s a word we use a lot when I arrived in the middle of the summer and it has continued,” he said, starting his role in July. “If you talk to anyone from the state level from ODJFS (Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services), they will tell you we are considered a medium-size county and we are approaching numbers of a metro community.”
That feeling of overload applies to both SCCS caseworkers, taking on many more cases than the state-recommended average of 10 to 15, and the part-time attorney. Mantell believes this resolution could alleviate some of the burden placed on these individuals’ shoulders.
Case workers have varying rates of experience, but veterans were defined by Mantell by having two to three years in the role. These veterans end up taking upward of 40 cases at times, the county average of approximately 30 skewed due to new caseworkers not taking on many as they begin their work.
“This is the first step in really diminishing and lowering those numbers,” he said, adding SCCS will work alongside Judge Alan Lemons and work to close cases as safely as possible.
Recalling that 219 children were in their care in 2019, Davis said SCCS’ workload has only grown over the years- a 36% increase in the time since. The growth, he believes, is tied to the county’s fight against the opioid epidemic and the associated mental health tolls addiction brings.
“We’re dealing with a lot of families that are broken,” he said. “These situations are not easy, they are very difficult to deal with. Our children are the ones taking it on the chin and we have to get them in safe situations.”
Visiting the Board of Children Services Tuesday, Commissioner Scottie Powell feels confident that the board cares deeply for its role. He believes this investment will only make their work easier.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll start seeing those numbers drop so we can give the attention to the children that they need,” he said.
What could be of further assistance to SCCS is Gov. Mike DeWine’s budget proposal that would invest $240 million into the State Child Protection Allocation in all 88 Ohio counties. Davis said budgetary restraints that SCCS has experienced over the years would lessen through the proposal, needing the approval of the Ohio General Assembly.
“The state of Ohio has a lot of work to do to support children’s initiatives,” he said. “The budget that is out there for approval does that, but not enough. It is an improvement, so let’s hope that proposal stays in-tack.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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