Happy Holidays

Our offices will close at noon tomorrow and reopen Thursday morning. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday.

We were very fortunate this year to have much support from the community. Toys for Tots once again donated hundreds of toys to our abused and neglected children. The U.S. Marine Corps Reserves does a fantastic job and helps so many people in this community and around the country.

Two churches, the Peoples Church in Clifton and Montgomery Community Church, held holiday parties for our children. It is so nice to be able to give them a sense of normalcy around the holidays and to see smiles on their faces!

Numerous other people donated gifts to our children. I wish I could name them all. The generosity of this community always amazes me.

Thank you and may your holidays be warm and filled with family and friends.






Giving to Our Children

We are often asked this time of year about donations of gifts for the children in our care, particularly foster children and those awaiting adoption. It is always touching to me to see the generosity of our community, especially during the holidays.

The agency has again established a partnership with Toys for Tots this year that will result in a donation of a few thousand toys to be delivered in mid-December. The U.S. Marine Corps Reserves provide an incredible service to our community and our children and we are extremely grateful for their generosity.

Because the Toys for Tots donation will cover most of the younger children on the agency’s caseload, we are encouraging other who want to donate to consider gifts for the teens in agency care. Those gifts could include gift cards to Walmart, Target, Kroger, Visa, MasterCard; household items such as irons, ironing boards, sheets, towels, etc.; and personal items such as jewelry, cologne, perfume, wallets, money clips, and purses.

If you want to donate, or know someone who does, please contact Brian Gregg at greggb@jfs.hamilton-co.org.

Thank you for thinking about our children!

Miracles will Happen on Nov. 16

Below is the column I wrote for this month’s issue of Update, our community newsletter. It discusses our upcoming mass adoption ceremony, which is one of the most powerful and emotional days of the year here at JFS.

(You can find the column and much more news about our agency here: http://www.hcjfs.hamilton-co.org/UpdateNew2012/November/Cover.htm. Please, if you are interested in our agency and what we do, subscribe.)

It is rare that you can predict a miracle, but I know of several that will take place on Nov. 16.

That is the day we hold our mass adoption ceremony to celebrate National Adoption Month. Several families will welcome our foster children into their homes and lives permanently, forming loving families out of what was a foundation of abuse and neglect.

To me, that is a miracle.

I always circle this day on my calendar. To call it “inspirational” doesn’t do it service. This is life changing for these children.

I watched a 13-year-old boy break down in sobs last year as he tried to articulate what his adoptive family meant to him. The boy’s life had been tragic: his mother had died and, after he went to live with his grandfather, his grandfather passed away, too. He then lived with an uncle who suffered medical issues that prohibited him from caring for the young boy.

Left all alone, he found love with a new family. His sobs told a story I could never tell in this newsletter.

Nov. 16 will be a celebration. Finalizing an adoption is always the culmination of a tremendous amount of work by our staff. Pairing a child with specific needs with a family that can meet those needs is difficult. But when you get it right, the reward is great.

This is our fifth annual mass adoption ceremony at Hamilton County’s Probate Court. Judge James Cissell will preside. Seven families will adopt 13 children. If you would like to watch it live, we will livestream it over U-Stream. Look for details later this month on our website, www.hcjfs.org.

We have nearly 200 children awaiting adoption. You can see their stories and watch their videos on another of our websites, www.hckids.org. Seeing their faces is both sad – a reminder of the more than 5,000 reports of abuse we investigate every month – and inspiring, because they have not been broken and their spirit shines through in their videos.

Each has been the victim of abuse and neglect and, despite great efforts, cannot be reunited with their birth families. Now, we are trying to locate the right “match.” That sometimes takes months or years.

We don’t give up. Even as they turn 18 and become adults. Everyone needs a family throughout life.

One other way we are celebrating National Adoption Month is with a recruitment event where prospective adoptive parents can meet and spend time with some of our children. Later in the month, we will hold a celebration for all families who adopted children throughout the year.

We do what we can to encourage and celebrate the adoption of our children. We have stepped up our efforts in the past few years and received additional help this year from a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids’ grant that allowed us to add recruiters. The Nov. 16th ceremony is but a symbol of our year-round efforts. So far this year, we have had 77 adoptions. We hope to surpass last year’s 112 and 2010’s 105.

Children available for adoption come from a variety of backgrounds, neighborhoods, economic circumstances and living situations. They may have varying levels of medical, emotional or behavioral problems. They all bring their own personalities, strengths, interests and gifts.

What they need most? Love.

Can you answer the call? Do you have what it takes? If so, visit our adoption website, www.hckids.org to learn more and feel free to contact us by phone, (513) 946-1000, or e-mail, adoption@jfs.hamilton-co.org.

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.

Children Shine in Recruitment Videos

Here’s a link to a nice television news story about our adoption recruitment efforts. We have stepped up the use of video over the past year. It really allows the children to shine and gives potential parents a glimpse of their personality.

We have more than 800 foster children on any given day, and slightly less than 200 are awaiting adoptive parents. If you are interested in adopting or fostering, pleace call 632-6366 or check out our website, www.hckids.org.

I hope you enjoy the story:


Thank You to the Community

Our abused and neglected children had a wonderful holiday this year. For the first time ever, we were able to provide toys to all the children who needed them.

We received more than 7,000 toys from the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves’ Toys for Tots program. What an amazing organization! I cannot thank them enough for their support of our children. Next year, if you are looking for a group to support during the holidays, please consider this organization because they help so many in our community.

Many others rallied for our children, too. I hesitate to name them because I may leave someone out, but I will try to capture as many as possible: Fifth Third Bank, Xerox, Bellarmine Chapel, Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Green Hills, TransAmerica, Warriors for Children, Hamilton County administration, Siemans and several individuals.

Because of you, many children had a brighter holiday. Thank you!




Great Discussion on Child Welfare

I want to thank Attorney General Dewine for inviting me today and for offering to host an important discussion on Ohio’s child welfare system. It is always great to get together with those who work in this field and discuss how we might improve things for the children we serve. Mr. Dewine has been a great advocate for children for many years and I appreciate his work on behalf of Ohio’s children and families.

 The child welfare system in this region has great cooperation and great partnerships. I treasure the workign relationships we have with so many in this community, including Juvenile Court, Pro Kids and the Guardian Ad Litem unit of the Public Defender’s Office. We also work very well with schools, hospitals, churches and providers. 

Do we have our challenges? Yes. But we are always working toward a fail-safe system. There is never closure when a child dies. There are always lessons to be learned and improvements. The goal never waivers – safety for every child. Just as Attorney General Dewine stipulated in the Safe Families Act of 1997.


JFS Asks for System-wide Investigation

Losing a child we’ve been involved with is always heartbreaking. We grow close to these children and take these tragedies personally. Our condolences go out to all who were close to DeMarcus Jackson.

We have asked for an independent system-wide investigation into the case. We just issued the following press release.

Cincinnati (Oct. 26, 2011) Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann and Job and Family Services Director Moira Weir on Wednesday ordered an independent ombudsman to conduct a review of the case that resulted in DeMarcus Jackson returning to his biological family.


The two have asked Ross Evans, a Cincinnati attorney appointed by the county in 2007 as an ombudsman, to examine the case records and identify any system issues that need corrected.


“The Job and Family Services Department conducts its own investigation whenever it is involved with a child who is seriously injured or dies,” Hartmann said. “But this warrants an independent review of everyone involved in the placement process to examine the decisions that were made and determine if different actions should have been taken. We owe this to DeMarcus.”


Hartmann said the review would take place after the investigation being performed by the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office so as to not interfere with that work.

The decision to remove an abused or neglected child from a home is made through a Juvenile Court hearing by a magistrate with input from several parties, including a JFS worker, court advocate for the children, the parents, attorneys for the parents and others. This follows a safety assessment of:


  • The presence of active safety threats or present danger
  • The vulnerability of the child
  • The protective capacities of the parent, guardian/custodian or caretaker
  • The family’s history of child abuse and/or neglect resulting in serious harm

 When an abused or neglected child is removed from a home, federal law requires the agencies involved in the child welfare system to meet a legal standard and make reasonable efforts to reunite the child with his or her biological family. The court must always balance the parents’ right to parent versus the best interests and safety of the child.

 The steps for reunification include:

A plan is devised by all concerned parties – JFS, the child’s court advocate, the parents, their attorneys and others — and approved by a Juvenile Court magistrate detailing what the parents must do for a safe reunification.


  • The parents are required to take part in intensive services such as drug and alcohol assessments and rehabilitation, mental health counseling, parenting classes, domestic violence counseling, etc. These services are provided by private agencies in the Hamilton County community.


  • The parents’ progress is overseen by a JFS caseworker and court advocate and reported to the Juvenile Court magistrate in regular court hearings.  At each court hearing the progress is reviewed and new court orders occur, amending the plan and requirements of the family.


  • With positive progress, families will move from supervised visits with their children to unsupervised visits to extended visits. In each instance, a report is made to the court on the results of the visit.


  • A final court hearing involving the parents, JFS worker, court advocate and others is held before a magistrate, who makes the final decision on reunification. If a decision is made that a child cannot be safely reunified, other options are considered for that child.


Weir said each of these steps occurred in the case of DeMarcus.

 “Reports on the family’s progress were all positive and everyone was in agreement on reunification,” Weir said. “Because of the serious nature of this incident, I feel it is best to have someone look into whether, based on the information available, the right decisions were made. We look forward to working with the independent reviewer.”

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.

Bringing Permanency to Children Who Need It

Permanency is crucial for the success of children. Children grow best in nurturing, stable environments. They want a sense of permanent “family.” For this reason, we are instituting Permanency Roundtables into our child welfare practice next month.

Permanent situations offer:

— commitment and continuity to children who really need it because of their situations
— a network of support to help those children thrive
— the safety of legal status, so someone has the authority to act in the best interests of the child
— the security of creating a long-term and meaningful connection between child and adult

Foster care was never meant to be the permanent answer for children in the child welfare system. Historical research shows, in general, the detrimental effects of long-term foster care on children. Foster care means different schools, different friends and the removal of most people with whom children share bonds.

Permanency Roundtables expedite the permanency process. These are structured, professional case consultations designed to apply innovative solutions and best practices – while removing systemic barriers — so a child can more quickly move into a permanent situation.

Permanency Roundtables are meetings where the professionals involved in a child’s life conduct an intense discussion and examination of the permanency options for the child. The participants will examine all aspects of the child’s life, the significant relationships in the child’s life and any other information that may help establish a plan to permanency.

The goal of the roundtable is to come out with a detailed, step-by-step permanency action plan for each child. We want to ensure resources are available to caseworkers to implement this plan. We also want monthly reviews on the progress.

JFS plans to make Permanency Roundtables part of its core practice. . These have been successful in other areas of the country.
We are devoting staff, time and resources to the effort and partnering with the Casey Foundation. This will lead to better all-around efforts on permanency, with increased training for staff, recognition of barriers and actionable data

The #1 goal is still safety. We will not compromise on that. But, if we explore new – and old — ideas, do some out-of-the-box thinking and come at this from a non-judgmental point of view, we might find new ways of helping these children. Let’s break the habits of tradition.