DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Montgomery County Children Services announced a new strategic vision Tuesday that will streamline how possible abuse is reported, restructure how cases are handled, ensure staff is properly trained, and strengthen partnerships with schools and law enforcement.
Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert says, “We know the system is going to be better and is better.”
It comes after a particularly tumultuous stretch in which one child died after he was not protected by the system, the state opened an independent investigation into the department, and the assistant director resigned.
We asked why the changes weren’t already implemented, and if it took tragedy to get some of the common-sense changes. Colbert said, “No it didn’t take tragedy, what it really took is a coordinated effort.”
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Montgomery County Commissioner Deborah Lieberman says, “People may say, ‘well what took so long?’ Well we know the day-to-day work that you guys already have is overwhelming.”
Commissioner Carolyn Rice says, “Knowing when to elevate those cases is so incredibly critical, so that our staff needs that legal input.”
An internal review was launched in January. Documents later uncovered by 2 NEWS showed Montgomery County Job and Family Services failed to meet five of the seven federal data standards and four of the seven state standards on a state review completed in August 2019.
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services investigation reported six key findings:
- Clarify the policies and procedures related to exigent circumstances.
- Ensure all members of a household are interviewed, not just seen.
- Ensure all staff are aware of the procedures for people who are uncooperative.
- Conduct comprehensive reviews of historical case records for current investigations of child safety.
- Clarify circumstances that require legal consultation. Collaborate with the Prosecutor’s Office to ensure legal staff are:
- Knowledgeable about child abuse and indicators of neglect
- Provided with all case information to inform their recommendations
- Knowledgeable about case implications of not filing
- Ensure staff are knowledgeable of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, parents’ rights, and the agency’s ability to contact outside resources without parental consent.
To address other findings from the state and local reviews, Children Services will also refocus on skills training for employees. The multi-level training will incorporate best practices, establish consistency, and enhance critical thinking.
Caseworkers acknowledge sometimes there is only so much they can do. PGO Local 12 President Jane Hay says, “Unfortunately there’s always going to be bad people that harm their children.” But she applauded the efforts to fix the system, saying any improvements will help children. Hay said, “It’s a process, and it will take time. But it will be well worth it.”
The death of Takoda Collins in December was especially difficult as DPS said Takoda’s teachers called about 17 times to report suspected abuse. Many of them reported there were no follow up calls to explain what was found, and communication with police was inconsistent. The 10-year-old died after years of alleged abuse. Children Services said there was no open case at the time of Takoda’s death. Takoda’s father, Al-Mutahan McLean, has been charged with four counts of murder by the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office.
Now Children Services says collaboration and partnerships will be another focus of the strategic vision. Memorandums of understanding, which are agreements between two parties that have a shared goal, will now include schools, law enforcement agencies, and other people required to report abuse if they suspect it. The strategic vision also says Children Services will work for improved collaboration with the Prosecutor’s Office’s Child Protection Unit.
The agency is also undergoing a significant reorganization. The president of the union that represents caseworkers says the current system is inefficient, mixing caseworkers in charge of intake with those in charge of ongoing cases. Right now dozens of positions are vacant, forcing the remaining caseworkers to take on more than 20 cases each. A county spokesperson says the county is actively recruiting for six caseworkers, and have selected 12 candidates for Caseworker positions that will start in September and October.
According to Children Services, the coming reorganization will:
- Maximize human resources while increasing capacity
- Address budgetary concerns
- Improve new employee orientation
- Enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives
- Focus on outcomes and quality
On September 15 Montgomery County and the PGO union agreed to a new, three-year labor contract. Both sides said they’ve moved past labor unrest that in 2019 led to the only Children Services strike in Montgomery County history. At the time County Commissioner Judy Dodge says, “We worked very hard this year to try to mend fences and try to get everybody on the same page.” PGO local president Jane Hay said caseworkers are “still out knocking on doors and removing kids and moving kids elsewhere that are actually positive for COVID, you know, in their own vehicles. So they’re putting themselves and their families at risk.”
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