Scioto County Children Services has come under fire for its handling of foster care placement in the past few years, but things are improving. Scioto County Commissioner Cathy Coleman said it was time for the media to focus on the changes and we sat down with Director Jason Mantell and Foster Care Supervisor Emma Coldiron to talk about where things stand now at the agency.
We addressed some frequently asked questions regarding Foster Care.
Do Foster Parents Get Paid?
Foster parents are not technically paid a salary. The stipend they receive is intended as reimbursement based on the expense of caring for a child. Items such as food, clothing, and activities are covered.
Director Mantell said, “No one is becoming wealthy being a foster parent. That is a myth.”
The amount per day in Scioto County is based on the certification of the foster home. There are family foster homes, special needs foster homes, treatment foster homes, exceptional needs, and intensive needs. Parents in special needs and treatment foster homes are required to take additional classes to better serve the needs of children.
Coldiron said in a special needs home, there must be a caregiver available 24 hours a day.
Do You Need to Be Married to Be a Foster Parent?
Age or marital status is no barrier to being a foster parent. You can be as young as 18 and there’s no upper age limit as all. You just need to be physically and mentally capable of caring for the kids.
Single or married people whether they be gay or straight are eligible to foster as long as they meet all of the state requirements. “There’s no discrimination,” Director Mantell said. “There’s no bias against anyone.”
What is the Average Age of a Child In Care?
According to Emma Coldiron, the breakdown in ages of kids in care in Scioto County are:
- 0 to 2 years old: 83
- 3 to 5 years old: 45
- 6 to 8 years old: 47
- 9 to 11 years old: 52
- 12 to 14 years old: 66
- 15 and older: 40
Coldiron said, “There is a wide range of children in our care. Three and up is where the largest need it.”
What Help Is Available For Kids that Age Out of The Foster System?
Children who grow up in foster care do not have a safety net of a family to help them transition into adult life. Scioto County offers a program called Bridges to assist them as they head out into the world.
The program is available as an option for kids who feel like they still need some help when they turn 18. Coldiron says, “It helps provide them with jobs and finding a home of their own. They have to be enrolled in school or working. That could be high school or college.”
A case manager is assigned to check in on the teens and find assistance for rent, utilities, and other needs such as finding insurance.
How Many Kids Can Share a Bedroom?
Up to 4 children of the same sex can share a bedroom as long as they have their own personal space in the room.
How Has COVID Affected The Ability Of Mandated Reporters To Detect Child Abuse?
With schools shut down and doctor appointments going virtual, children have less contact with adults outside the home who are tasked with safeguarding their welfare. Director Mantell said, “The numbers of phone calls decreased at our agency. Numbers were down.”
However, he said the number of reports is right back to where they were before, if not higher. “Our numbers in custody have increased dramatically in the last 12 months.”
Do You Have Adequate Funding For The Job?
With the increasing number of kids in the care of Scioto County Children Services. Does the agency have enough money to do the job?
Director Mantell says it’s not a yes or no answer. “I don’t want to say the funding process is unfair. But is it adequate? No. Part of that is because our county is an anomaly as far as the number in custody for a county our size. We are working with elected officials. They have been willing to listen.”
Mantell said the need for foster care in Scioto County and across the state is greater than ever. “There are just more children being removed. There are more families running into issues.”
He said Governor Mike DeWine had allocated many resources to foster care and hoped that trend continued. “We’re hopeful that the future is brighter so we can safely return kids to families. If not, we can find a forever home for those young people in need. It’s a challenge daily. We have a budget to adhere to.”
He said the agency had its highest number of staff members ever but could still use more help. “We do have a levy that’s been around for several years. That’s not up for renewal for about 4 years. Obviously, our goal is to show the community the need for those funds. It’s just for care of children. It’s not for salaries or for our employees.”
Mantell said the agency does accept monetary donations and donations of new clothing. Due to COVID restrictions, they cannot accept used items. “It’s wonderful. People call and ask what we need. They will donate clothing and diapers, baby wipes. We do have some generous folks.” Mantell said many donors don’t want their names mentioned.
What’s Happening With The Board?
The death of baby Dylan Groves in 2019 resulted in Director Lorra Fuller losing her job and a shake-up on the Children Services Board. But with new members and a new outlook, change is in the air.
“We have ten members now,” Mantell said. “From a variety of backgrounds. Some from the business world, some from the education world, some from mental health, some from law enforcement. We have a physician, which is great. It’s helpful. When we have a discussion, it can be a well-rounded discussion. These are people who aren’t being paid to do this. They’re taking time and they’re taking responsibility for what’s going on.”
Mantell says the board normally meets monthly but may meet more frequently if something requires their attention.
What Happens When Law Enforcement Contacts CPS?
Just what happens when police contact CPS about a child in potential danger at 3 am? The caseworker on-call contacts their supervisor for those late-night responses and heads out to the scene if their presence is requested.
The agency then assists with meeting with kids and family members and assessing the situation. Emma Coldiron says, “Then we see what we can do moving forward to ensure the children are safe in that emergency situation.”
Director Mantell said the agency’s relationship with law enforcement is extremely important. “We live in a world and a county where adults sometimes make poor decisions. Sometimes those adults are supposed to be caring for children.”
Mantell says he’s been able to sit down with both Scioto County Sheriff David Thoroughman and Portsmouth Police Chief Debby Brewer. “Both have been wonderful. We have a good relationship with the New Boston Police which we can see from the back of our agency. We just want to make sure we are all on the same page.”
Agree To Disagree
Mantell said that conflict can arise because their responsibilities and requirements aren’t always the same. “We have to make sure we work through those appropriately and communicate the appropriate amount of information. I hope the law enforcement officers in our area would agree our communication has improved in the time that I’ve been here. I don’t mean to make it about me. We’ve really hired some great people. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree.”
He said that it was important to understand the purpose each agency serves. “Unfortunately, we don’t have an unlimited amount of investigators. There may be a time we have up to 14, 15, 16 reports in a day. Those are clearly going to overlap. We have people out on reports we have to pull because a higher level priority has hit. I know the police and sheriff’s departments run into the same things. You have a rough day with citizens making really bad decisions. You have to prioritize where you go first. Those things can be really frustrating.”
Mantell said the priority is that the outcome is always in the best interest of the child. “I feel there’s not an issue if I need to contact either the police department or the sheriff. The prosecutor and I have a really good relationship as well. We speak regularly.”
He said his agency cooperates with law enforcement and other foster care systems, the CAO, and state agencies. “We need to make sure that those relationships are solid even when we disagree.”
“From my point of view in the director’s seat,” Mantell said. “I want the community to know I understand that there have been situations that would cause distrust. But I want to be very clear, if there is a concern, we want to know. We may not always agree on the outcome. I can assure you, we are hiring and continuing to train people to work in the best interest of children.”
He said that sometimes that requires working with adults who have made bad decisions. “The safety of children is our number one priority. There are going to be people who watch this and don’t believe me. I encourage those people to reach out to me. If you want to speak to me, please send a message. I’d be glad to make an appointment with you. Our phone number is on the website.”
He did ask that if people have an issue with a caseworker, they address it with that caseworker and go up the chain of command to the supervisor.
“I will never, ever ignore someone. We may have a disagreement but I will listen.”
He said that while it sometimes appears the agency is not forthcoming, they are very limited by law as to what information can be released. “I know there are times where if I could say something to the media or our caseworkers could tell families something, I believe they would understand our decisions. But we’re required to keep things extremely private.”
Work In Progress
Mantell said the agency was now a very different agency from what it had been in the past. “We have a lot of growth. We are not a finished product and I will not advertise us as thus. But we take this very seriously and we do care about children. It is child priority number one. We do have to work with adults as well. That is not always popular.”
He said that no matter what the agency does whether it’s to return a child to its family, put it into kinship care, or move to foster care someone will be angry with that decision.
Director Mantell says his agency is all about moving forward. “I get asked about the past a lot. We’re focused on now. We don’t want the things that have happened in the past to happen anymore.”