JFS has a Widespread Impact on the Local Economy

Below is my column from our recent Update newsletter. If you are not receiving our newsletter, please visit our website, hcjfs.org, and find the sign up form under the Public header. It is a good way to keep up on what is going on at JFS.

 

Hamilton County Job and Family Services has a $1.8 billion impact on the local economy.

That is what was going through my mind as I reviewed the number of Medicaid applications we have received under the recent expansion. If we receive as many as predicted – 42,000 – that will push us above the 200,000 recipient mark. That is a full one quarter of the county’s 800,000 residents.

But the numbers behind the numbers are the dollars attached to those recipients. Because they have health care insurance, they are able to spend money at local doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals. Last year, $1.3 billion in Medicaid was spent at local medical facilities.

JFS also accounted for $232 million in food assistance spent at local grocers. Another nearly $100 million was spent at local child care centers and homes. Various other programs account for nearly $200 million in spending at local businesses.

This is something I try to keep in mind when going about the day-to-day business of running JFS. Our reach goes far beyond the 275,000 people involved in a child support case, or the 167,000 Medicaid recipients or the 145,000 food assistance recipients. Yes, we help 17,000 abused children a year, but that help extends beyond those children to doctors who heal their wounds, psychologists who help them become whole and social service providers who help meet their other needs.

It is hard to say exactly how many people we serve, because many of the recipients are duplicated across programs. My guess is we directly serve about 500,000 of the county’s 800,000 residents. But if you consider the dollars that reach beyond those half million, it is a good bet there are very few in this community who do not benefit from the work we do. 

 

Adoption Ceremony May Put a Lump in Your Throat

I am getting excited about our upcoming mass adoption ceremony on Nov. 22. We hold it every year to celebrate National Adoption Day and it always results in an emotional validation of the work we do here at JFS.

When you work in the field of abused and neglected children, there are a lot of tough days. The thousands of children we work with each year have really sad stories behind them.

Nov. 22 is going to be a positive day — a day of celebration. Fifteen children will forever join seven families. Believe me when I tell you that what happens in that ceremony will put a smile on your face and, possibly, a lump in your throat.

I wrote about the ceremony in our latest edition of Update. You can read what I wrote at  http://www.hcjfs.hamilton-co.org/UpdateNew2013/November/Cover.htm

We are livestreaming the event. I hope you will join in the fun!

Changes Coming to Children’s Services

Below is my recent Update newsletter column on changes coming to Children’s Services. You can read more news at JFS by subscribing to Update here.

 

Some of you may have read that the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners has approved our agency spending an additional $2 million on support for our Children’s Services Division.

 We are excited and grateful for this opportunity. State budget cuts have taken a toll on this agency, with the loss of half our funding and half our personnel since 2008. We now operate the agency with $50 million less than we did in 2007. The additional money – and the resources it will bring — will certainly help.

Our Children’s Services Division has experienced caseloads of a far more complex nature over the past few years. This community is a microcosm of the nation, which is experiencing much the same, with research increasingly validating the link between severe child abuse and the economic downturn. In 2011, we were involved with 1 of every 11 children in this community, up from 1 of every 12 in 2010. The system is stressed.

We have a project team in place to determine the best use of these funds. All of the following are under consideration (not all will require funding):

  • Additional staff:  We are looking at hiring new caseworkers and transportation aides. The new workers will reduce caseloads and allow workers more time for critical decision making, service delivery and safety assessment. The transportation aides reduce the time caseworkers spend transporting children and parents, allowing more time for casework.
  • Additional services: These services will assist with parental assessments, supportive services and identifying risk factors associated with a parent’s capacity to protect their children long term.
  • Quality assessment: This unit could review cases and monitor decision making and case management practices. It could also examine previous casework, staff efficiency, emerging trends and other issues to assure caseworkers’ actions are in line with agency policy and best practices.
  • Operational improvements: This could take the form of additional senior-level management to help with staff oversight and review of casework, policies and practices or some other form that will make us more efficient and better at what we do.
  • Customer service: This will not cost additional money. We are going to monitor our interactions with the community and build customer service benchmarks into our staff evaluations.
  • Policy/Practice changes: We are looking at implementing a group decision-making model for some of our tougher cases.
  • Public education: The agency will increase efforts to discuss child welfare with the public and get an understanding of community expectations.

I am committed to improvements that not only make us better, but make us accountable and transparent to Hamilton County residents. I do caution, however, there is no simple solution to eradicating child abuse.

The number one goal for everyone involved with an abused or neglected child is that child’s safety and well-being. We all – JFS, Juvenile Court, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, ProKids, the parents and their attorneys and other interested parties – work together, within the laws that govern child welfare, for the best outcome for children and families.

We work with an extremely vulnerable and volatile population. Many of the parents are addicted to drugs, suffer mental health problems and are either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence. They can get clean and relapse. They can take medicine that helps them function, but then quit taking their medications. Predicting their behavior and the behavior of those they allow around their children is an extremely difficult task.

The system will never be failsafe. When tragedies occur, we as a system must learn from them to make ourselves better. We as a community must look deeper at the variables that lead to child abuse and do what we can to stop it.

Your support – and assistance –to this agency and the children of this community is critical.

JFS Consumers Getting Speedier Service

The most recent round of state statistics on county processing times show Hamilton County led all metropolitan counties in processing February food stamp applications, with an 86% timeliness rate.

As you will recall, we had trouble processing new applications and re-applications this summer due to growing caseloads, changes in state policy and budget constraints. We told you we would put a plan in place that would get us back to acceptable levels. The new statistics show the plan has worked.

We not only led large counties in processing all food stamp applications, we led in processing new applications, in processing applications where there had been a break in eligibility and in processing expedited Medicaid applications. We also continue to be a leader in work-participation rates for our Ohio Works First recipients. 

I am proud my staff has invested so much effort into getting  better. We were faced with a challenge and we worked hard toward a solution. We appreciate the community’s patience with us.

This is a good lesson. We have had many challenges across our organization lately.  This is proof that when we put our minds to it and our sweat into it, we can become a better organization. You can count on us to do that.

As always, thank you for your patience and support.

Working to Earn — and Keep — Your Trust

When I was appointed director in 2007, I made a point of telling this community our agency would be more accessible, accountable and transparent. My goal was to gain your trust.

I realized early on we alone could not solve this community’s problems. We needed the support of everyone in the social services community, business community, government community and others to tackle tough problems such as poverty and child abuse. I knew we could not become the center of that community-wide effort if we did not have your trust.

I think we have made progress. Our partners in the social service community have worked hand-in-hand with us through trying times, when the economy has greatly increased the number of people walking through our doors while, at the same time, stark budget realities have led us to reduce staff and contracts. Our business community has aided us in foster care recruitment, workforce development and other critical areas. Local government leaders have supported us through tough times and helped us launch creative programs, such as the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative and the Crossover Youth Project.

But I realize trust is a fragile thing. I never take it for granted. 

Last week, our agency made the news for the wrong reasons with criminal indictments against former employees. The justice system will work that out.

But I want to again confirm this agency remains committed to being accessible, accountable and transparent. Even in this situation, we discovered the alleged misconduct and brought it to the attention of authorities for a full investigation.

We are unhappy and disappointed that any employee of JFS would be suspected of improperly using or dispersing government assistance intended for the neediest in our community. Especially at a time when so many are seeking help from the agency.

These actions did not result in anyone from the community being denied benefits. Cases are approved based on the applicant meeting eligibility requirements and these actions did not limit the amount of assistance available to the public.

JFS undergoes regular audits and has received recognition for its efforts in the administration of public assistance programs. The agency was recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its work on food stamp accuracy.

The overwhelming majority of JFS employees are hard working, honest members of society. The agency has nearly 800 employees who help protect children and the elderly, collect child support and provide financial, food and medical assistance to this community.

As I said, trust is a fragile thing. As the leader and public face of the Department of Job and Family Services, I take our relationships with this community extremely seriously and I pledge that our agency, as a whole, will continue to operate honestly and ethically. We plan to remain at the center of the efforts to improve the lives of Hamilton County’s citizens and we will continue to build strong partnerships throughout our community that will help us achieve that goal.

I hope you will not lose faith in us.

Foster Care and Adoption

Just a reminder: we are having a live chat Wednesday at 10 a.m. to discuss foster care and adoption. This is your chance to ask questions if you have any desire to be a foster or adoptive parent. We have 850 foster children on any given day and more than 200 are awaiting adoption. Help change a child’s life and make your community a better place all at the same time!

http://www.hcjfs.hamilton-co.org/Buttons/Media/Pressreleases/2011/May/Press%20release_Foster%20Care%20Chat.pdf

A Remarkable Foster Parent

Like all parents, the things foster parents do to care for their children is truly astounding. Most foster parents really are unsung heroes and their accomplishments are too numerous to count. But as foster care month continues, I thought I would highlight the accomplishments of one woman who took extraordinary steps to stay with her foster child.

Nine years ago, Sarah Johnson was not sure she wanted to take on any more foster children; she had already raised seven, four of whom she had adopted. But a caseworker at St. Aloysius Orphanage knew then 12-year-old Willie needed someone special. Not only does Willie have Down syndrome, but at the time he was suffering from a variety of serious health problems, including heart complications and kidney disease. Sarah could not shake what she calls ‘God’s will’ and lovingly accepted Willie into her home, nursing him through his considerable health issues.

But Sarah always knew she could not be Willie’s foster parent forever. Eventually Willie would age out of the foster care system and need a caregiver through Hamilton County Developmental Disabilities Services. Without a high school diploma, Sarah could not qualify to be Willie’s caregiver, and at 67 with an 11th grade education, Sarah was understandably intimidated. Luckily, her caseworker, Tina, talked her into at least attempting the GED test. For four months, Sarah’s grandson, brothers, sisters, church members and pastor helped her study. When she finally took the GED in March, she earned a perfect score, and Willie will be able stay.

I applaud Sarah for her hard work and incredible dedication. But while Sarah’s accomplishments are extraordinary, I want to again thank all foster parents for their remarkable efforts to provide foster children with a loving home.