Friday, August 15, 2003

Butler Children Services revamped

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Butler County's agency for protecting abused, neglected and dependent children has undergone a sweeping reorganization.

It represents another major step in the Butler County Children Services' reformation efforts in recent years.

Agency officials believe the changes will result in a more accurate assessment of complaints, better treatment for families with problems and a greater chance of reunifying families.

For the past three years, Children Services has been trying to transform itself from an agency that had been criticized by many for unnecessarily removing children from families into one that emphasizes family reunification along with child protection.

Jann Heffner, executive director of Children Services, said the organizational changes signal the agency's commitment to a new way of conducting business.

"We want to keep families out of our system unless absolutely necessary," said Heffner, who was hired last November.

These changes come at a time when the agency has cut $5 million from its budget and reduced its administrative staff by half. In addition, the agency's 2-mill levy expires at the end of the year.

The county commissioners will decide next week whether to place a levy renewal or a levy increase on the November ballot.

The agency's current 2-mill levy will generate $7.7 millionof its $17.7 million in revenue this year.

The organizational restructuring made under Heffner's leadership:

• Created a clinical and family resources department and hired Dr. William Moore as chief clinical officer.

This will enable Children Services to assess possible mental health problems quickly and to take the necessary steps to provide help and protection, Moore said.

"If we have a very serious situation where somebody needs to be hospitalized, I can do it immediately," he said.

Fewer children will need to be sent out of the county for mental health services, he said.

• Formed a Department of Programs and Policy Development. It will centralize all rules, regulations, policies and programs and will gather all Children Services data and reports.

• Created a Department of Assessment and Short Term Services. This will include a new program to assist families that need limited, short-term services.

• Merged two departments to form the Department of Family Support and Placement Services.

This department will help families reunify with children and will recommend to the courts whether to terminate parental rights and place children up for adoption.

"We'll have better communication between caseworkers and placement workers," said Sandy Wolf, head of the department.

Commissioner Courtney Combs praised the reorganization as "cutting edge." Commissioner Mike Fox said it shows the agency is trying to provide maximum services with limited resources.

The agency's new emphasis on early assessment and intervention will be critical in preventing juvenile delinquency and, later, adult crime, Fox said.

"Juvenile delinquency," he said, is "the harvest of misery and pain stemming from child abuse."


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