PORTSMOUTH — Last week, a summary of the performance of Scioto County Children’s Services (SCCS) that covered a nearly five-year period was released, with some points showing improvement in critical areas while other areas showed the agency had not fully implemented state issued recommendations.
In addition, the Scioto County Commissioners voted to restructure the SCCS Board and have SCCS report to Scioto County Job and Family Services (JFS), a move that mirrors 77 out of Ohio’s 88 Children’s Services agencies.
The Portsmouth Daily Times asked Jason Mantell, Executive Director of Scioto County Children Services if he thought the decision on the part of the Commissioners was fair.
“You know, that’s a difficult question, the Commissioners made what is obviously a large and impactful decision and currently, we serve a Governing Board that is appointed by the Commissioners. I don’t know if fair or unfair is the best way to approach that, I think all of our Board members, the three Commissioners, a vast majority of the community and all of our employees would agree that finding a commonality in that children’s safety and family safety is at the forefront of what we want to accomplish,” Mantell said. “Even during the most challenging times and we are certainly in the midst of that, it’s at the forefront. As for me, I want and will work towards nothing but the best situation for our community, for families, employees and JFS.”
“I’m not the one that had to make the decision the Commissioners made-if they feel it is justified, then they should [probably be the ones to answer your question.”
Mantell added, “For me, this is not about picking sides-this will be worked out between the Commissioners and our eight Board members and I’m going to do whatever the majority of those two entities feel is best for the community we serve.”
The summary from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services was erroneously proclaimed as a report by some media outlets, contained information from that agency’s findings regarding the death of Dylan Groves and how SCCS mishandled the process that eventually led to the infant’s death. A great deal of the summary dealt with issues that transpired more than nine months before Mantell took over as Executive Director, several years ago.
However, Mantell did acknowledge that parts of the summary were an accurate reflection of SCCS current performance levels-even though the summary was released to the public before he had the opportunity to read it in its’ entirety and share it with his staff.
“I want to be clear-this was not a report, nor was it a compliance review, it was a summary. I believe there are some accuracies as well as some inaccuracies, but I would prefer to review those with the SCCS Board and my staff first. I do believe it is not accurate over events of the last five to six months and I know there are some things that are not present in the documentation, such as the State’s acknowledgment that there have been major improvements in a number of areas. A discussion I had with Jeffrey Van Duesen, the Deputy Director of the OJFS showed that many of the agency’s problems were due to a lack of staff and the overwhelming amount of cases that we are dealing with daily. We will deal with the inefficiencies we know are accurate as a team.”
The dramatic increase in the number of children in SCCS was reflected in the data that showed in December of 2019, the county agency was serving 224 children and in December of 2021, that number had jumped to 379 children.
Mantell also addressed the details that he felt were crucial, were missing from the summary.
“I still want to be able to sit down with our staff and approach the summary from a holistic standpoint and report to the state. However, there are some items where I believe we have made significant progress-we have people that reach out to us and tell us they do not want to lose their child and ask us what can we do to help? A lot of times, those are cases the public doesn’t hear about because they are very private situations.,” Mantell said.
“We do point people in the correct direction, we can help people with such things as bills on a limited amount-those are positives we provide, but I know in the big picture, it’s not enough. Also, we have been a very aggressive agency in taking custody-with the help of the Scioto County Prosecutor’s office, we set a record for safe termination of cases in January with twenty-five and for February, I believe it was at thirty,” Mantell said.
Even though SCCS is dealing with metro-level numbers and village-sized funding, the number of cases the agency has successfully handled is increasing. Mantell stated that “No matter where you live in this country there are factors that make it a challenging time and our county has certainly seen its’ share of hardship. Our main focus is to create a safe environment in Scioto County, which is what our staff and Board try to do every single day, seven days a week and if we cannot accomplish that, I don’t know what we can focus on. It has to be priority one.”
“If we don’t provide a safe environment for our children, what is our community going to become in the not too distant future? Simply put, if we cannot educate or feed our children and make them safe, where does that leave us as adults?”
Mantell closed on a positive perspective.
“I believe when we begin to focus on the things upon which we agree, we’ll find solutions faster and end negative actions much sooner. By working in that manner, with community partners, we can make not only the agency but also the county the best it can be.”