Statistics from a recently published study completed by the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform which indicate that Clermont County is the third worst county in the state for seizing children for foster care placement are misleading, said Clermont County Job and Family Services Director Tim McCartney.
Criticisms levied by the coalition’s executive director Richard Wexler against the way Butler County handles placing children in foster care last week were accompanied by statistics from the study showing Clermont County to be ranked in a worse position. However, McCartney said that looking at the one statistic leaves a great deal of the picture unrevealed.
“I’m not aware that the coalition made any charges against us,” said McCartney. “There was an article in The Cincinnati Enquirer that referenced Clermont County, but Mr. Wexler did not make allegations against us. I think it’s The Enquirer’s take, they looked at one statistic of that report that indicated that Clermont County removes children from homes at a high rate. We weren’t singled out for having an issue, and there are other statistics in that report that The Enquirer did not report that are very favorable to Clermont County.”
The study’s report, which described how the data was compiled and detailed numbers ranking counties in Ohio for child seizure rate, among other things, showed that Clermont County ranked third for rate of removal for impoverished children in 2005.
According to the chart, Clermont County removed 226 children that year. However, the report, which only looks at the largest 40 counties by population, used data on the number of impoverished children in the county from the 2000 census to compare with the number of children removed, thereby creating the state ranking for that county for removing impoverished children. What the study does not do is look at each individual child to determine if they are, in fact, impoverished.
“The way it’s calculated is simple,” said McCartney. “It takes the number of children removed in a given year, and divides it according to census data of the number of impoverished children. That’s extrapolated to indicate that poor children are removed for being poor. It doesn’t look at the individual children or what their situation was.”
However, while the report did reveal that Clermont County was ranked third of the 40 counties studied for removing children, it also showed that Clermont ranks as one of the highest in the state for protecting those children after they are removed from the home.
“In the two other statistics that were not cited, Clermont County is one of the top performers in the state,” said McCartney. “One of those statistics are the number of children who are re-abused. We get allegations of abuse and neglect and look into it. If there is some substantiation, but the child is not in imminent danger, the child is left with their parents. We then provide them services, and we are one of the top performers in the state for those children not being re-abused. They got appropriate services. The other statistic, is if a child is removed from their parents for abuse or neglect and placed in foster care, we rank among the leaders of the state in not having those children re-enter foster care again after being reunited with their parents. Those statistics overwhelmingly show that we are appropriately removing children and protecting them, which is our mission. We return them appropriately when their parents have worked out their issues, which again is our mission.”
In fact, the report shows that, in 2005, 4.2 percent of the children who were removed from the home were re-abused after being returned by job and family services. That ranks Clermont County at 28 of the 40 counties studied. The other statistic, on how many children are removed and placed in foster care again after being returned to their parents was slightly higher at 6.8 percent, but resulted in a ranking of 32 out of 40 counties.
Franklin County ranked highest in the report for impoverished children removed with a score of 76 percent as compared to Clermont County’s 50.7 percent. Athens County ranked highest in re-abuse, with a score of 17.2 percent, and Ross County ranked highest for children being re-removed and placed into foster care, at 23 percent.
McCartney said that the goal is to reunify children with their families, but only when that is beneficial to the child.
“Our goal is always to reunify with parents if we can,” said McCartney. “That is, if they complete their services in the case plan as it was determined. The other big part is, we recommend removal, but it’s a decision of the court. It’s not just us taking a child. The court determines if the child needs to be removed.”
Doug Brothers, court administrator for Clermont County Juvenile Court, said that the role of removing a child for children’s services is somewhat limited to collecting the complaints and looking into it. If they decide there has been a case of abuse or neglect, they can only recommend a removal.
“Essentially, it starts with some sort of complaint or allegation to children’s services (of abuse),” said Brothers. “There are people called ‘mandatory reporters’ who have to report abuse, neglect or dependency, such as teachers, school counselors or police officers. That complaint goes through a screening process, and if they investigate and the social worker decides that the child should be removed, they notify the police and the police removes the child and take it to a foster care situation. The next day, we’re required to have an emergency custody hearing.”
In order for the removal to stick, children’s services not only has to indicate their reasoning and prove it is justified, but also that they made every effort to fix the problem before the child was removed. If a judge agrees, then a second hearing is scheduled where a system, such as counseling or rehabilitation for the parents, is devised to work towards that reunification goal.
“What we have to determine is whether there was a reasonable effort made to prevent displacement,” said Brothers. “They can’t just come in and say they found a kid in filth. They have to say that they found the kid in this condition, they couldn’t find relatives to put the kid with, and there was no way to change the conditions that are the basis for the removal.”
McCartney added that another important factor not taken into account by the study is the location of Clermont County and the incidents of drug-related offenses that often results in the child removal procedure.
“We border a major metropolitan county that is shrinking,” said McCartney. “That means we’re growing. The more people, the more incidents of abuse. That leads to more removals. We also have a methamphetamine problem in Clermont County. We removed more than 40 children (this year) because of that. That wasn’t taken into account. The parents of those kids were making, using or selling methamphetamines. It is very dangerous to indicate whether or not any entity is doing its job based on one statistic.”