October 26, 2014

Medina
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County taking a gentler approach

MEDINA — Social workers in Medina County will be working to find solutions to child neglect rather than looking to punish it.
A program funded by a nonprofit grant allows social workers to collaborate with families in low-risk neglect cases to prevent future problems.

“Our goal will be how can we help the family be successful, have the child be safe, without calling (the parents) neglectful and abusive,” said Louise Brown, social services administrator at Medina County Job and Family Services.

Medina was selected to be one of 15 Ohio counties to administer the Ohio Alternative Response pilot project. Mead Wilkins, director of the department, said it will receive a $40,000 grant from the American Humane Association over the next two years to implement the program.

Wilkins explained that under the current system, staff visit a home and begin an investigation into anonymous abuse and neglect tips.

“We’re going to come knock on your door really loudly and we’re going to say we have an anonymous referral that you have abused your children … and we need you to admit that you have, in fact, abused them,” Wilkins said.

However, that’s not effective in every situation, Brown and Wilkins said.

Brown said with the new program, the department “partners more with families, rather than takes this more authoritarian approach.”

Staff handle between 500 and 600 cases each year. Brown said about 30 percent of them are high risk and will be investigated in the traditional manner, but social workers will be able to take a different approach with the remaining 70 percent.

“This will be more of an intensive type of social work. It could be the social workers going out two, three times a week to work with the families,” Brown said. “Certainly it’s going to take a lot of energy. It’s more grassroots social work.”

She said case workers will try to determine what causes some of the families’ issues, such as economic or emotional problems.
Then the worker will link the family to services that can help.

Wilkins said, for example, if the department receives reports about a family living in squalor, the social worker could link the family with resources to fix up the house. He said that’s better for the family as a whole than putting the children in foster care.

“There’s some contingent who wants to punish the parents. Our goal is to do what’s best for the children. We have to focus on the child. The higher level of permanency the children have, the better chances they have to succeed,” Wilkins said.

Contact Maria Kacik Kula at (330) 721-4049 or mkacik@medina-gazette.com.