Citizens group: Children Services needs external ombudsman

Montgomery County Children Services needs someone from outside their agency to handle complaints from the public, according to a citizens group created to seek reforms after the December death of 10-year-old Takoda Collins.

The group, Takoda’s Call, plans to appear at Tuesday’s Montgomery County commission meeting to request the establishment of an external ombudsman, according to group member Karen Bocko.

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Bocko said the details of what they are requesting will be presented to county commissioners and available on the group's website. She said they intend to keep coming before commissioners until changes are made to keep another child like Takoda from harm.

“The group is going to be present and make their request known,” she said.

Commissioners are scheduled to meet at 1:30 p.m. on the 10th floor of the county administration building, 451 W. Third St.

Montgomery County commissioners oversee Children Services, which is a department of Montgomery County Job and Family Services. County spokeswoman Brianna Wooten said they welcome the group to come.

“Montgomery County is looking forward to hearing from Takoda’s Call about their specific desires to improve child protective practices and we are open to a discourse on their request,” she said.

Timeline: The tragic life and death of Takoda Collins

Takoda died in December after what police say was a period of extreme abuse despite multiple people saying they called Children Services and Dayton police alleging concerns of abuse. Four Montgomery County children’s deaths have been reported to the state this year possibly linked to abuse or neglect.

These cases have spurred public calls for reforms and increased oversight of the county agency.

The agenda for Tuesday’s commission meeting includes approving a contract between commissioners and the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office to increase to eight the number of assistant prosecuting attorneys in the county’s child protection unit.

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Meanwhile Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is working on the details of a governor-ordered intensive review of Montgomery County Children’s Services cases. Technical assistance experts will be sent on site to help with screening, assessment, family contact and other protocols.

Montgomery County is the only county in the state that will receive this intensive oversight. But in February, ODJFS announced it is forming a rapid response unit with three experts – yet to be hired – to help counties on a short-term basis.

Generally, the child protective services system is under strain across the state, largely due to the opioid addiction crisis. In December 2019, Ohio had 16,388 kids in the foster system, up from 13,171 in December 2014.

Staff turnover is a major issue for county children’s services agencies. Many counties find as soon as they hire and train someone, another worker leaves. “It’s like they’re running in place,” he said.

Laura Bischoff contributed to this report.

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