What story did we tell in 2011?
Reflecting on the past year with a colleague, I asked that question. I believe our agency’s 2011 “story” had many good chapters, and some challenging ones, too. In the end, our story was similar to one we tell every year – a story of helping this community in its time of need.
Certainly the chapter that gained the most attention occurred toward the end, with the tragic death of Damarcus Jackson. Anytime we have a case that ends so tragically, we take it as an opportunity to examine our actions, policies and procedures in search of ways to get better at protecting Hamilton County’s most vulnerable children. I promise you we are doing that. The most difficult decisions we ever make as a child welfare agency are on removing, placing or returning a child in a home, and we take that responsibility very seriously. We will continue to do everything to be better at attaining our number one goal of safety.
The passage of the Children’s Services Levy by a record 71 percent in the wake of Damarcus’ death was a message from the community: “we believe in the work you do and we want you to have the resources you need to do it.” That was a shot of confidence when we really needed it. Thank you to all who support us!
And I choose to believe good news like that is more indicative of this agency’s 2011 story. This was the year when our Children’s Services division received expedited accreditation from a national group, the Council on Accreditation, because we were in compliance in every area it evaluated. That seal of approval sends the message to our community that we are performing on par with the best child welfare organizations in the country.
This was also the year we piloted the state’s conversion to a new child care payment system. The largest county to go online with a swipe-card system, we helped the state understand the nuances and navigate the pitfalls before introducing it to other Ohio communities. This was a major undertaking and I am proud of our Child Care staff members who worked so diligently at ensuring Hamilton County shined throughout the entire process.
We were also the best large county in the state when it came to Work Participation rates among our public assistance recipients. We still have work to do in this area, but we appreciated the state asking us to share our methods with other counties to assist them in boosting their rates.
In 2011, we launched new efforts, such as our “Do Ask, Do Tell” campaign aimed at getting mandated reporters such as teachers, police officers and child care workers to report suspected child abuse so we can intervene as early as possible. Other new projects sought to improve financial literacy among our child support population and to enhance our efforts around finding permanent, positive outcomes for children in foster care.
Yes, we had our challenges. The economy has left far too many Hamilton County residents struggling, and when those record numbers turned to us for help, too many had to wait too long. We have spent much of the past three months engaged in an effort to be better prepared to provide them the relief they need as soon as possible.
And in the same year we held our first public Internet chat to solicit tips on public assistance fraud from our community members, we had the unfortunate situation of three former employees being arrested for suspicion of fraudulently supplying friends and family members with public assistance. Of course, we have absolutely zero tolerance for this type of behavior from our employees or this community and will do all we can to root out any fraud in our public assistance programs.
But our challenges are only chapters in our book. The positive chapters far outweigh the negative ones, and the story of Hamilton County’s Department of Job and Family Services in 2011 is one of hard work, determination and innovation. This is an agency that helped hundreds of thousands of Hamilton County residents by protecting children and the elderly, collecting child support for children and providing food, medical assistance, child care and job services to those who needed a helping hand.
In 2011, we helped many of your neighbors on their way to a better tomorrow. That is our story.