Below is my recent Update newsletter column on changes coming to Children’s Services. You can read more news at JFS by subscribing to Update here.
Some of you may have read that the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners has approved our agency spending an additional $2 million on support for our Children’s Services Division.
We are excited and grateful for this opportunity. State budget cuts have taken a toll on this agency, with the loss of half our funding and half our personnel since 2008. We now operate the agency with $50 million less than we did in 2007. The additional money – and the resources it will bring — will certainly help.
Our Children’s Services Division has experienced caseloads of a far more complex nature over the past few years. This community is a microcosm of the nation, which is experiencing much the same, with research increasingly validating the link between severe child abuse and the economic downturn. In 2011, we were involved with 1 of every 11 children in this community, up from 1 of every 12 in 2010. The system is stressed.
We have a project team in place to determine the best use of these funds. All of the following are under consideration (not all will require funding):
- Additional staff: We are looking at hiring new caseworkers and transportation aides. The new workers will reduce caseloads and allow workers more time for critical decision making, service delivery and safety assessment. The transportation aides reduce the time caseworkers spend transporting children and parents, allowing more time for casework.
- Additional services: These services will assist with parental assessments, supportive services and identifying risk factors associated with a parent’s capacity to protect their children long term.
- Quality assessment: This unit could review cases and monitor decision making and case management practices. It could also examine previous casework, staff efficiency, emerging trends and other issues to assure caseworkers’ actions are in line with agency policy and best practices.
- Operational improvements: This could take the form of additional senior-level management to help with staff oversight and review of casework, policies and practices or some other form that will make us more efficient and better at what we do.
- Customer service: This will not cost additional money. We are going to monitor our interactions with the community and build customer service benchmarks into our staff evaluations.
- Policy/Practice changes: We are looking at implementing a group decision-making model for some of our tougher cases.
- Public education: The agency will increase efforts to discuss child welfare with the public and get an understanding of community expectations.
I am committed to improvements that not only make us better, but make us accountable and transparent to Hamilton County residents. I do caution, however, there is no simple solution to eradicating child abuse.
The number one goal for everyone involved with an abused or neglected child is that child’s safety and well-being. We all – JFS, Juvenile Court, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, ProKids, the parents and their attorneys and other interested parties – work together, within the laws that govern child welfare, for the best outcome for children and families.
We work with an extremely vulnerable and volatile population. Many of the parents are addicted to drugs, suffer mental health problems and are either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence. They can get clean and relapse. They can take medicine that helps them function, but then quit taking their medications. Predicting their behavior and the behavior of those they allow around their children is an extremely difficult task.
The system will never be failsafe. When tragedies occur, we as a system must learn from them to make ourselves better. We as a community must look deeper at the variables that lead to child abuse and do what we can to stop it.
Your support – and assistance –to this agency and the children of this community is critical.