Child Abuse Prevention Month and Pinwheels for Prevention

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and I always like to use it as a time to remember why I became a social worker. As my duties have expanded and I have taken on responsibilities that stretch across the whole agency, I do not get to spend as much time on the heart and soul of what we do: helping children and families.

In the early 1990s, while working in a real estate company with a finance degree, I was fortunate enough to become a Big Sister to a foster child. She captured my heart. From that point on, I was hooked on helping abused and neglected children. I sought a master’s in social work and I became a Children’s Services caseworker.

So, when April rolls around each year and someone mentions it is Child Abuse Prevention Month, I try to take a moment to reflect on the human side of our business. I put aside the budget figures, the administrative duties and the personnel issues and I think back to my early days as a caseworker and how fantastic I felt when we could make a positive difference in the life of a child.

Nationally, approximately 1 million children are found to be victims of abuse and neglect in a given year. More than 1,500 children die from abuse each year. It takes more than $100 billion to respond to that abuse.

In Hamilton County, there are more than 6,000 reports of abuse and neglect each year. That is more than 6,000 children who need our help. I cannot think of a more important job.

These statistics are not acceptable. We all need to make this a high priority in this community. Child abuse prevention is not just the job of our Children’s Services division. It is the job of everyone in this community.

We will join several other community organizations on April 2 and plant more than 6,400 colorful pinwheels – each representing a report of child abuse or neglect to Hamilton County’s 241-KIDS hotline – near the Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The pinwheels, which depict the innocence of a child, are a dramatic attempt to draw attention to child abuse. Pinwheels for Prevention is part of Prevent Child Abuse Ohio’s statewide campaign to promote awareness and prevention of child abuse.

Please join us for the event. We start planting at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. We cannot win this battle by ourselves. Child abuse prevention is everyone’s job.

County’s accuracy rate increases

I am thrilled that once again I get to share some good news about the great work our staff is doing here at Job and Family Services. I learned this week that the agency’s food stamp accuracy rate for Federal Fiscal Year 2008 (Oct. 1, 2007 to Sept. 30, 2008) is 98.24%. This is a 6.53% increase from the previous fiscal year’s rate of 91.71%.

The purpose of the food stamp accuracy rate is to make sure that we give the correct amount of food stamp benefits to eligible food stamp participants. The state gives county departments of Job and Family Services a goal of having an accuracy rate of at least 96%.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the agency is seeing thousands more food stamp recipients. It would be very easy for mistakes to happen with so many additional cases, but our Family & Adult Assistance workers understand the importance of being accurate.

In addition to the front line eligibility workers and their managers, clerical staff, call center staff and Program Quality Assurance staff should all be commended for their hard work in keeping errors low. By doing so, it decreases the amount of misspent dollars for the food stamp program. In these hard economic times, that is always important.

As I walk through the lobby at our downtown building, I can see the fear and anxiety on our clients’ faces. Many of them are walking through our doors for the first time and just want a friendly face to help them through the process of obtaining food stamps. I am proud that our employees understand this and do not hesitate to go above and beyond to help the citizens of Hamilton County.

Recognizing employees for outstanding work

We received the following e-mail today from someone who works closely with victims in our county court system. I have edited it to keep some information confidential, but the gist of it is that one of our workers, Jermil Tarver, has done a wonderful job on a case.

You will not read this on the front page of the newspaper, which is where our mistakes often show up. Do not get me wrong — I am the first person to admit we make mistakes and should be held accountable for them. But we receive little attention for the positive work we do, so maybe this blog can showcase some of the kudos we get from the community.

I appreciate each and every one of our workers. They often see horrible things, work long hours and receive a lot of negative feedback from the people they are trying to help. But I really appreciate workers who go the extra mile on behalf of a family or child. Thank you, Jermil, for your great work.

“I have been in this position for 13 ½ yrs. I have recently come into contact with an employee of yours by the name of Jermil Tarver, on a case of a man who was convicted of Gross Sexual Imposition on a child. In a time when we hear so many negative things about “JFS”, I wanted to make you aware of something very positive. Not that I’ve ever really had any complaints about any of your employees, however, when someone goes above and beyond, I feel compelled to let their supervisor know that they have done so.

NEVER, in all of my employment, have I seen any JFS worker put so much effort into a case as Jermil did on this case. He attended absolutely EVERY court hearing, was always on top of the matter, and was 200% invested in the case. I realize that each of your co-workers are bogged down by many, many cases and don’t always have the capacity to dedicate the time and effort that they wish they could to every single case, which is very unfortunate, but just as much a reality of life. Jermil treated this case as if it were the ONLY case he had. He would sit in court waiting and waiting for as long as necessary, when I’m sure he had a million other things he needed to be doing. He was so dedicated to helping our victim and making sure the right thing happened. I’m pretty sure he would’ve come in repeatedly on his own personal time if we asked him to. I was extremely impressed with his professionalism and dedication, and I can only hope that there are many more JFS workers out there like him that I have yet to meet. If only I could request him on every case I have like this!!!

I just wanted to insure that you know what an exceptional employee you have working for you, and for the citizens of Hamilton County. He was definitely an asset to the prosecution of our case and his time and dedication and “going above and beyond” were greatly appreciated by both myself and the Assistant Prosecutor who handled the case. I hope that Jermil is recognized for all of his hard work. He is an absolute asset to your office.”

Agency receives honor as Hunger Champion

Lately, it seems that all we hear is bad news concerning the economy, unemployment, the increase in need for assistance, etc. But I do not want the positive news about our agency to get lost in the shuffle. That is why I am happy to announce that our Family & Adult Assistance section has been named a Hunger Champion for 2008 by the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service.

The Food Stamp Hunger Champions Program honors local offices that provide exemplary service in assisting eligible clients obtain food stamps. The letter I received announcing this honor came from Tim English, director of the Midwest Region of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In the letter, he stated “we are proud to acknowledge the exemplary service your office provides to clients applying for SNAP benefits. Your staff is truly deserving of this honor.”

I could not agree more.

In the past year, there have been a lot of changes within our Family & Adult Assistance section. We have lost staff due to budget cuts and we are seeing an increase in the amount of Hamilton County citizens who need our help. We have also implemented several initiatives to make ourselves more available to our clients.

Despite all of those changes, our Family & Adult Assistance workers continue to ensure that our clients’ needs are met. These workers see tens of thousands of clients a month, which can be stressful, but that does not stop them from making sure Hamilton County citizens receive appropriate assistance in their time of need.

Congratulations Family & Adult Assistance workers – you truly are Hunger Champions.