Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Child service progress seen

Butler agency emphasizes family aid instead of removal

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — After being criticized in a state audit last year as having removed children from their families too quickly, Butler County Children Services says it has been making a greater effort to preserve families.

        The reduction in the number of children in agency custody — from 874 in 1998 to 597 through the first six months of this year — reflects that change in philosophy, Executive Director Kathy Vallance said Monday.

        “Sometimes children have to be removed from their homes for their safety,” she said during her report to county commissioners. “But our agency believes that children generally do better with their families.”

        Children Services is directing more money and more counseling services into easing family problems and helping people be better parents, Ms. Vallance said.

        Families are receiving more services much earlier for mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems and housekeeping standards, she said.

        “We're putting more money and resources at the front end,” Ms. Vallance said.

        The agency received 1,619 referrals during the first six months of this year, and 208 required continuing services, she said.

        “Many of the cases can be closed right away or short-term services can be provided,” Ms. Vallance said.

        In the past two years, Children Services drew heavy criticism from the state and from some local officials and parents who said the agency unnecessarily took some children from their homes.

        At the direction of county commissioners, the agency says it has been trying to help more children stay in their homes or with relatives or neighbors instead of being placed in foster homes.

        Commissioner Mike Fox, who led the initiative for agency reform, praised Ms. Vallance for her leadership. But Mr. Fox and Commissioner Courtney Combs said the agency must improve its recruitment of foster families in Butler County.

        Children Services has 122 children with Butler County foster parents and 178 with foster parents who live outside the county.

        Ms. Vallance acknowledged this shortcoming and said the agency is trying to use neighborhood leaders to recruit foster parents.

        She said children usually are better off remaining close to home.


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