Apparently under siege since the well-publicized death of a months old infant once in their care, Scioto County Children Services actually was a recipient of what seemed to be some good news, according to Children Services Executive Director Lora Fuller.
At a Children Services Board meeting Thursday morning, Fuller announced the organization’s state funding under the heading “child protection services” is about to jump from $629,000 per year to roughly $1.1 million per year. Fuller and several board members quickly indicated those dollars likely will translate into more social workers and possibly raises for persons they consider highly underpaid.
Fuller told the board Scioto County Children Services currently consists of 20 employees, including 12 caseworkers, handling the hundreds of cases which present themselves to authorities. On Thursday morning, the board went into executive session to discuss hiring new employees as well as the aforementioned raises for current workers.
Portsmouth Acting Mayor Kevin Johnson serves on the Children Services board. He noted a fast food restaurant near his day job offers pay comparable to what social workers make at Children Services. He and other board members offered the opinion college educated persons with what can be extremely stressful positions deserve to earn a bit more.
According to Fuller, the local Children Services has five times fewer caseworkers compared to their counterparts in comparable counties.
“So, when people say that we’re not doing our jobs or screening enough cases, that is not what the numbers show in regard to comparisons to counties our size,” Fuller said.
Fuller talked about one long time social worker for Scioto County who quit her position here specifically because of the pressure resulting from the well-publicized case of Dylan Groves. According to Fuller, the social worker’s name appeared in the media (not the Daily Times,) and that situation subjected her to criticism and ridicule. Fuller indicated the pressure simply overwhelmed the employee. Overall, she maintained the negative publicity over young Dylan’s death greatly damaged the morale of her staff and hurts their ability to do their jobs. She insisted there is no single person at Children Services who does not care about children.
Fuller rattled off a long list of the types and number of cases her organization handled recently. An accurate list of those numbers was not readily available Thursday.
Even as the Scioto County Commissioners criticized the Children Services Board for not supplying information on ongoing efforts to possibly improve organization practices and policies, Fuller said a review by state agencies into the policies and practices of Scioto County Children Services is now complete. She said persons compiling the information now are in the process of writing up their findings, which will need approval by state legal advisors prior to the release of any report to either the board or the public.
The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services began their investigation in mid-June. At that time, Fuller indicated whoever conducted the review had 30 days to finish his or her work as well as additional time to write up their findings. On Thursday, Fuller did not offer any estimate as to when the report might clear any legal hurdles prior to its release.
On another front, Board President Al Oliver said officials fully intend to follow up on last month’s private meeting intended to review Children Services programs. Initially, Children Services officials planned a public meeting but switched to a closed-door session involving a limited number of Children Services Board members, one Scioto County Commissioner, Bryan Davis; Scioto County Court of Common Pleas Judge Alan Lemons, who presides over the court’s juvenile division; as well as representatives of the county sheriff’s and county prosecutor’s offices.
Oliver said Thursday Lemon’s office will decide the time and date of a follow-up session. He promised the board a report on any recommendations resulting from the meetings. At least one board member Thursday stated the next closed-door session will include representatives of local school districts.
“It was a good meeting, I thought,” Oliver said of the initial session. He did not offer any further details.
A joint statement put together by Judge Lemons’ office read in part, “The overall goal of meeting was how to better protect our children. All parties came to the meeting with the same mindset. The plan is to continue meeting every six (6) weeks, extend an invitation to local school and medical personnel, to further discuss these issues. It is our intention to share the results of these meetings with the public.”
On Thursday, Oliver did spend a little time responding to some of the criticism aimed at Children Services. He stated there is no one on the board who does not care about children.
“One thing we have to keep in mind is this: We cannot watch every child every minute of every day,” Oliver said, adding several times the initial closed-door session was very positive. He also said the intent is for at least some future meetings to be open to the public and attendance by every board member and presumably all three county commissioners.
Under Ohio law, as the initial meeting was not public, only five members of the Children Services Board legally could attend. Open meeting law also limited participation by the county board of commissioners to a single-member.
Thursday’s meeting did not completely proceed without some criticism of the board and Children Services. With their comments echoed by Johnson, who said he received phone calls on the situation, three or four members of the small public audience criticized Children Services for allegedly improper housing of up to five children in a trailer in a rural area with no access to specialized mental care needed by the youth in question. One speaker alleged the trailer has no air-conditioning, a definite problem in his opinion considering recent heat waves. Johnson was among those board members alleging Children Services pays too much for the care in question.
Officials did not discuss the situation in detail publicly. However, the intent was to discuss the situation in a closed-door, executive session to include members of the public allegedly familiar with what is happening. The executive session took place immediately following the public portion of Thursday’s meeting. No details were available by deadline for this issue and there likely are legal issues with board members discussing the closed-door session with the media.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370-0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.