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.

 

 

 

 

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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:

http://www.local12.com/news/local/story/Hamilton-County-Foster-Kids-Make-Videos-in-Search/iK8nnJZLf0-7_IYVrM2TPA.cspx

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.