PORTSMOUTH — In debt and with a caseload that seems to increase by the day, Scioto County Children’s Services are certainly up against it.
On top of that, the Scioto County Commissioners, one week after restructuring the SCCS Board, accepted the resignation of Board member John Howard, who Commissioner Scottie Powell said was an integral part of that team.
So where besides Scioto County Jobs and Family Services (SCJFS) is SCCS heading and how are they going to get there?
Addressing a summary that was developed by the Ohio Department of JFS, SCCS Director Jason Mantell tackled the topics head on.
“I will not dispute some aspects that there are areas of responsibility where we may be lacking. The problem is there are some vague statements in the general child welfare portion of the summary and that’s why we need to sit down with those at the state level for clarification because I need a definitive context here. We have definitely not met all of the goals that were assigned to SCCS as a result of events that took place mostly nine months before I came on board-we have a massive opportunity to grow and get better.”
Mantell cited the escalating number of cases over the last two years, with 224 reported in December of 2019 and 379 in December of 2021 as a major factor for some of his agency’s deficiencies.
“There’s a huge correlation between the number of cases and the number of employees we have on staff that greatly determines the level of our performance and capabilities. The Commissioners our SCCS Board and as well, the community we serve are all aware of that. No one should be blaming any individuals at our agency for a lack of oversight. We are assigned an extremely high level of challenge and we are working with community partners to provide additional assistance because in the big picture, it isn’t only about SCCS. We have a great many community partners that play a big role in the safety of children and we need them as well.”
The state recognizes the problem as well, according to the SCCS Director.
“I’ve spoken to officials at the state level that have told me straight out, you need more employees and two more units-however, fiscally, at this moment there is no way we can do that. One official I spoke with suggested that since children’s services is such a tough field in which to work, resulting in a higher than normal turnover rate, could we try to “over hire,”. The problem with that is multi-fold-when you over hire, the expectation is that not everyone is going to make it-but, what if everyone does stay or the rate of turnover slows? It might be great for productivity, but what happens when I have to go to those employees and tell them we can no longer afford them and they no longer have a position with us? We go back to a less than acceptable level of performance and service and we have a number of people who are going to be very angry and rightfully so-it would also cause problems with our bargaining unit.”
Mantell opined on another aspect, stating, “We have been a very aggressive agency when it comes to taking custody of children in the toughest of situations, which is fantastic when it comes to placing them in much, much safer environments, but a problem that occurs when we do that is the question arises, how do we keep pace with that unless we increase our staff or get another revenue stream? It creates a high number of new cases for our employees as well as a huge burden from a financial standpoint-but is it worth it for the safety of our children? Absolutely. We are not going to sacrifice any child for our bottom line.”
“We had a backlog of cases when I arrived here at SCCS and fortunately, we have been able to get through some of that thanks to the Scioto County Prosecutor’s office that has provided an additional attorney who has been in full swing for almost a full year now, so at the moment, our caseloads are beginning to drop-right now, we are at 350 and earlier in 2022 we were at 390. The system in which we work has a slow process and I acknowledge that it does not treat everyone to what some view as fairly and I hate that-I just wish we had the financial capability to meet and exceed everyone’s expectations and needs.”
“There is no one solution, let alone a simple solution to all of the challenges we are facing.”
Last year, child advocates asked the Ohio Senate Finance Committee for $50 million per year in general revenue funding to be placed in the biennium budget to support the resulting costs that were caused by the opioid epidemic as well as the COVID-19 pandemic which was proven to have exacerbated the addiction and overdose situation so deeply felt in southern Ohio. Before those two calamitous events, placement costs through a Children’s Services agency had already risen by nearly two percent over the year prior.
Despite the obstacles, Mantell knows exactly of what his and his agency’s daily duty consists.
“I know it is a difficult moment in time for the children and the families we serve, as well as our employees and our Board and local officials. Our calling is a great one-to protect children that are defenseless and in a situation that is absolutely no fault of their own. We treat each child as ours and we are working diligently to find the multi-faceted solutions, both financial and operational that will allow us to save every child that comes into our care.”
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