Children Services to change structure, policies following agency reviews

Montgomery County Children Services Haines Center

After a tumultuous year for Montgomery County’s Children Services, the county on Tuesday will unveil a new strategic plan for the agency that will include a reorganization, policy updates and new procedures the county says will improve child safety.

Following 10-year-old Takoda Collins' death last year and a case involving an infant earlier this year, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered a state review of “alternative response” cases handled by the agency. The changes resulted from the state’s examinations and the county’s own study of Children Services' operations, said Michael Colbert, Montgomery County administrator.

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“This new vision represents months of hard work and is the result of several reviews by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, as well as the internal review requested by our county commissioners,” Colbert said in a news release.

According to the county, key findings of the reviews identified the following issues for improvement:

  • Clarify policy and procedures for emergency circumstances
  • Ensure all household members are interviewed
  • Ensure staff are aware of procedures for non-cooperative parties
  • Clarify circumstances that require consultation with the Child Protection Unit of the prosecutor’s office
  • Ensure staff are knowledgeable of Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, parents' rights, and the ability to contact collateral sources of information without parental consent

The review process also prompted a reorganization of agency staff that provides for greater specialization among caseworkers, enhanced compliance review and training, and a more deliberate approach to diversity and inclusion, according to the county.

“We’ve made changes that will bring greater community engagement, and we are improving training and processes to better support families and protect children,” said Judy Dodge, Montgomery County Commission president.

Debby Shaw, interim assistant director for Children Services, will present the reorganization and new strategic plan at Tuesday’s Montgomery County Commission meeting. The meeting at 1:30 p.m. is not open to in-person visitors due to the pandemic but will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page.

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Children Services will also participate in regular meetings with the Child Protection Unit of the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office to assist caseworkers in elevating cases through legal means when appropriate, according to the county. Elevating cases could provide grounds for child interviews without parental consent, along with other legal avenues to protect children potentially in danger.

The county and the Professionals Guild of Ohio (PGO), the union which represents Children Services workers, reached a three-year contract deal this month in the wake of an impasse, a strike and court case last year and more recent concerns over caseloads and unfilled positions.

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Jane Hay, local PGO Council 12 president, said the county partnered with the union to make the organizational changes.

“The county welcomed the input of our members as we developed this new structure,” Hay said. “These are complex jobs in the best of circumstances, and greater specialization in casework will provide better results for our families. Our members live and breathe this work every day, so we are so pleased that the county leadership team reached out and asked for their valuable input before the reorganization.”

The Professionals Guild of Ohio represents about 270 bargaining unit positions, but as many as 50 are open, Hay said this month.

At the end of July, Children Services was handling 2,614 child abuse and neglect cases and 663 kids were in foster care. The agency made 3,793 abuse and neglect investigations during 2019.

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