Thursday, April 29, 1999

Butler Co. children's agency pleads for 2.4-mill levy

Failure would reduce services for troubled kids

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — A lot is riding on Butler County's 2.4-mill children services levy in Tuesday's primary election.

        The measure, Issue 5 on the ballot, not only will add 0.4 mills but also will replace the Butler County Children Services' 2-mill levy from 1988 that expires at the end of the year. Children Services depends on local money for about half of its annual revenue.

        The failure to pass a levy before the end of this year could result in a severe reduction of services for abused, neglected and dependent children, said Linda Lee Smith, spokeswoman for the agency.

        “The services we have now are barely adequate with the high number of caseloads we have and the dwindling amount of money,” she said. “We have drained our pot of gold, and we're under the gun.”

        The measure would generate $12.6 million per year. It would cause the owner of a $100,000 house to pay $33 more in annual property taxes. Voters defeated a 2-mill replacement levy in November.

        Since 1988, when Children Services became its own agency, the county population has grown from 281,531 to 331,000. The average workload for a Children Services caseworker is 22 current cases, eight more than the state recommends, Ms. Smith said.

        Butler County Children Services receives 17 new cases per month, four more than the monthly average for all such agencies in Ohio, she said.

        The levy's passage would enable the agency to reduce the number of cases each worker handled, extend its working hours to weekends and weekday evenings, and continue its contracts with other agencies that provide services to children, Ms. Smith said.

        “We could do more preventive work than we do now,” she said.

        Children services levies are especially important in Ohio because the state covers an average of only 10 percent of the costs of protecting children, the second-lowest rate in the nation, said Crystal Allen, assistant director of the Public Children's Services Association of Ohio.

        The association is a professional group for all 88 county children services agencies.

        The levy has some oppo nents.

        One-minute ads vehemently opposing the Butler County Children Services levy have been airing on WKRC-AM radio since Monday.

        Joseph Adams of Liberty Township and Dennis Yavorski of Bridgetown paid $2,110 for the ads. They recently formed Parents Responsible for Family Integrity with about four other people to mount a campaign against the levy, Mr. Yavorski said.

        Both men say they have been falsely accused of physically abusing children — Mr. Adams by Butler County Children Services, and Mr. Yavorski by Hamilton County Children Services.

        In a recent settlement of a lawsuit Mr. Yavorski filed against Hamilton County Children Services, the agency paid him $30,000, removed his name for the state's registry of child abusers and agreed to have an independent review of its agency's operations.

        But the agency “was not asked to admit wrongdoing and has not admitted wrongdoing,” said Cindy Good, spokeswoman for Hamilton County Children Services.

        Mr. Adams said he eventually regained custody of his niece.

        Mr. Yavorski said he is opposing Butler County's levy because he knows others besides Mr. Adams who he thinks have been mistreated by that county's Children Services.

        They said Butler County removes some children from their homes without justification.

        “Butler County needs to reform before it gains more resources to disrupt families,” Mr. Yavorski said.

        Ms. Smith disputed the allegations of Mr. Adams and Mr. Yavorski.

        Children Services seeks a court order to remove children from their homes only when absolutely necessary, she said. Police can remove children from their homes without court orders when they think children are in imminent danger, she said.

        Children remain in their parents' homes in 83 percent of the child-abuse complaints Children Services receives, Ms. Smith said.

        Many local agencies that work with Butler County Children Services have written letters to local newspapers praising its work and urging people to vote for the levy.

        “Our agency is totally supportive of this levy,” said Tammy Langen, assistant clinical director of Catholic Social Services of Butler and Warren Counties.

        “Children Services has done an excellent job of taking care of the needs of the children in this county.”


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