After meeting with what he described as a group of concerned citizens on Wednesday, state Sen. Joe Uecker, (R-14,) returned to Portsmouth the following day in order to attend a meeting of the Scioto County Children Services Board.
“In general, my main concern is how many months have gone by without any visible or discernible changes to assure the public, such as the people who are contacting me, that this cannot and will not happen again,” Uecker said, adding he was concerned when he received no answer from board members to a question regarding what changes had been made at county children services
The incident attracting the attention of Uecker and those concerned citizens was, of course, the death of six-month-old Dylan Groves, whose body law enforcement authorities say they found at the bottom of a well in Otway and whose parents both are now on trial for aggravated murder and other charges. Daniel and Jessica Groves are due back in court for their first pretrial hearing July 25.
In the meantime, county children services has come under heavy criticism from various quarters, perhaps most notably the Scioto County Board of Commissioners, who have no direct authority over children services, but do appoint members to the children services board. Commissioners called for an independent, third-party investigation of what happened to baby Dylan as well as a review of all cases in which the county has custody of children. Lastly, commissioners asked for the suspension of children services Director Lorra Fuller until the completion of an outside investigation.
Children Services Board Chairman Al Oliver said Friday morning no one responded to Uecker’s question during Thursday’s meeting because board members did not have an easy, ready answer. However, Oliver promised that is about to change. Oliver said his board plans to meet July 17 with various stakeholders involved with children services, including among others, the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office. He added county commissioners are invited. He believes it important all involved come together to gain “clarity” regarding what happened and what needs to happen in the future.
“I think it’s a positive for our community we are making strides,” Oliver said.
The children services board last month decided not to suspend Fuller until completion of a third-party assessment officials said was already in the works before commissioners made the request. On Friday, Fuller said an investigation by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) began June 25.
“All our cases from Dec. 24, 2018 to June 23, 2019 are being reviewed by a team of specialists from the ODJFS,” Fuller said. “The purpose of this review is to assess casework practice, evaluate compliance with the Ohio Administrative Code, provide technical assistance and assist in the continual improvement of case work practice to enhance safety and well-being for children with the goal of reducing child maltreatment and child fatalities. They will provide ongoing technical assistance to the staff at our agency as they review the cases.”
Fuller added if changes prove needed, changes then will happen immediately.
She also stated an internal investigation is in progress.
“Currently, the agency is reviewing all cases of children in the custody of our agency,” Fuller wrote in an email to this newspaper. “We are the in process of a case review (looking at the case record) as well as seeing each child in their current placement. As requested by the county commissioners, if the staff identify any issues where children’s safety are at risk, they will refer those on to juvenile court for further follow-up as determined necessary by juvenile court staff.”
For her part, Fuller objected to Uecker’s characterization of her organization as having taken no action.
“It is everyone’s hope, both the board and the staff at children services, that as a result of this extensive review child maltreatment and child fatalities will be reduced,” Fuller concluded. “To say that the Scioto County Children Services Board is not taking action is erroneous and misperceived. They have made decisions based on facts and are awaiting information from the team of expert reviewers before further action is taken. Everyone at children services is willing to do whatever is necessary based on the findings of the reports by the ODJFS.”
Oliver said much of the criticism is coming from an understandable place of emotion, instead of reflecting the facts of what occurred.
“The bottom line is we had the death of the baby,” Oliver said. “Nobody likes that… But they’re pointing fingers at children services and that’s unfair.”
Oliver added the public does not seem to have a good grasp of what children services is capable of doing. Oliver noted he has served on the board for many years.
“We’ve never had any issues,” he added.
Oliver stated he believes next week’s meeting between the board and other interested parties will be open to the public. However, he could not report a time and location as of Friday afternoon.
“I have made several trips to Scioto County on this very topic recently and have met with a dozen people who are begging me to address perceived deficiencies in the law that might prevent this from happening again… here or elsewhere, in Ohio. I assure you of my resolve to do just that,” Uecker said during his comments to the children services board, which he provided to the Daily Times.
Uecker later added he intends to work with other state officials, including state Representative Brian Baldridge, (R-90.) One thing he hopes to assure through new legislation is to mandate in cases of family reunification, such as happened with Dylan Groves, if the caretaker involved misses one meeting with county officials, law enforcement automatically is notified of the case.
Children services said, in accordance with Ohio law, Dylan, who was allegedly born addicted to drugs and removed from his family for that reason, was reunited with his father. Daniel Groves initially kept contact with the county and seemed to be doing what he needed to do to retain custody of his son. Officials alleged he then suddenly stopped showing up for meetings and so on and eventually the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office was called in to help with the case.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.Reach