The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services is sending an investigator to Scioto County Monday to begin looking into the circumstances surrounding the death of six-month-old Dylan Groves.
On Tuesday, the Scioto County Children Services Board will hold a special meeting at least partly to decide the fate of Children Services Director Lorra Fuller.
In speaking with the Daily Times, Fuller stated Scioto County Prosecutor Shane Tieman instructed her not to share publicly any specific details relating to the circumstances surrounding Groves’ death.
According to Scioto County sheriff’s Capt. John W. Murphy, following up on a tip, law enforcement officials searching for young Dylan found his body June 13 at the bottom of a 30-foot well in Otway. A county grand jury since indicted his parents, Daniel and Jessica Groves, on numerous criminal counts, including aggravated murder. Both pleaded not guilty during initial court appearances, with a first pretrial hearing set for the couple on July 25.
After he was born with illicit drugs allegedly found in his system, the county initially took custody of the child. However, officials allowed his biological father to regain custody after the father supposedly met all mandates for family reunification as required by law.
Fuller and Children Services both are under fire for Dylan’s ultimate fate and on Tuesday the Scioto County Board of Commissioners requested the county Children Services Board place Fuller on administrative leave pending an outside investigation into the circumstances of the child’s death. Commissioners apparently were unaware state officials plan to be in Scioto County Monday.
The Children Services Board should decide on suspending Fuller during their meeting 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Children Services offices, 3940 Gallia St., New Boston. Fuller stated the meeting is open to the public, though in a release sent to media, the board indicated their first action will be to vote on going into executive session to discuss a personnel matter, presumably Fuller’s potential suspension.
Discussing employee matters behind closed doors is standard procedure for public bodies in Ohio and is specifically allowed under the state’s open meeting or Sunshine Law.
While county commissioners called for a third-party investigation into Dylan’s death, Fuller stated such an investigation will happen when the state arrives here Monday. Fuller said, by law, any investigator will have 90 days to complete his or her work plus additional time to write up their findings.
She admitted to being somewhat upset at finding out via social media about the commissioner’s request for her suspension.
“It is a little concerning to me that they have not had a conversation with me about this before it came out publicly in the paper,” Fuller said. “Whatever the board decides, I feel like it is a horrible tragedy that happened to this child but at the same time this is what we do every day. We are obligated by law to place children with family. And we follow procedure, we follow the protocols as put in place by the State of Ohio.”
Although she declined to speak about Dylan’s case specifically, Fuller stated the county is indeed obligated by law to reunite children with their family members, especially parents, whenever possible. She added family members, including parents, wanting to take a child previously identified as endangered must meet numerous criteria.
“If there are issues identified, then a case plan is created,” Fuller said.
According to Fuller, case plans specify multiple requirements to be met by the custodial family member. For example, Fuller said, if the family member or parent has anger management issues, the county mandates appropriate counseling.
“Typically, all of our parents, if needed, go through a parenting class,” Fuller continued. “They might have to have an alcohol/drug assessment. They might have to have a mental health assessment… essentially, whatever is identified as necessary by the caseworker.”
Fuller further talked about the county routinely completing safety assessments of the child’s potential new environment. Case plans are part of the court record regarding any endangered child and are essentially legal requirements placed on anyone taking custody of the child. Caseworkers must complete regular updates on the child’s circumstances and the custodian’s adherence to the case plan.
Could the county have placed Dylan with another family member other than his allegedly drug addicted parents? Again, Fuller said Tieman instructed her not to discuss specifics of the case. But she also reiterated Ohio law requires county officials reunite children with their biological parents whenever possible. Parents must be given first preference.
In general, how does it come to be a child is separated from its parents in the first place? According to Fuller, Ohio law states if a child’s parents cannot safely care for a child, the county is obligated to take custody of the child.
“It is then our responsibility to make sure that environment is safe for the child to return to,” Fuller said.
Generally speaking, child services discovers instances of possible child endangerment by way of information provided by mandated reporters, such as teachers, doctors and others required by law to pass on information regarding possible child abuse or neglect. Fuller said officials also often receive reports from neighbors or even other family members. She noted the names of anyone who reports alleged abuse or neglect always are kept confidential.
In the days since Dylan’s death first made the news, much has been made in the mainstream media as well as on social media about Scioto County Children Services being overloaded and understaffed. Fuller stated there are 19 caseworkers dealing with approximately 200 children in custody.
“We do have large caseloads, certainly,” Fuller said. However, she also quickly made comments to the effect the situation in no way should be taken as excusing what happened to Dylan. “Caseload size has never been a factor in terms of what cases are screened into the system.”
She further noted unlike some other counties, Scioto County drug tests all persons potentially taking custody of children in county care.
“We drug screen across the board,” Fuller said.
In terms of dealing with children services caseload, Fuller stated she approached the Children Services Board, asking for and was granted additional dollars. As one result, Children Services plans to increase the maximum number of caseworkers to 21 in the near future.
Tieman did not respond to a request for comment.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.