By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter
MOUNT VERNON - The message Matthew Kurtz, director of Knox County Department of Job & Family Services, had for the county commissioners on Thursday is that “We're facing a lot of challenges, but we are facing them in a wide-eyed and efficient manner.”
One of those challenges is the increase in the number of children in the custody of KCDJFS, climbing from 30 or so last year to more than 80 this year.
“Opiates is the popular reason you hear about [for the increase], and that's certainly a contributing factor, but we are also seeing a lot of methamphetamine,” said Scott Boone, social services program administrator for KCDJFS.
Boone said the number of child protection calls received last year is up due to KCJFS encouraging people to call and have situations investigated. The department received 2,346 calls in 2016 and 2,120 in 2015. The number of child investigations increased from 482 in 2015 to 517 in 2016.
The department received 220 adult abuse and neglect calls last year; Boone anticipates that number to increase in the 60-and-older category due to population demographics. The number of adult neglect investigations in 2016 (31) is down from 96 in 2015. Boone attributes the decrease to better filtering and increased information at the screening level.
“Better screening eliminates an investigation and an expectation created when money, or the individual, doesn't allow further followup,” said Kurtz.
The department will receive additional funding from the state for its adult protective services division. “It's valuable work and we are happy to do it, but not as an unfunded mandate,” said Kurtz, who has testified several times before the Ohio Legislature on lack of funding issues. He said his message to the legislature is “If you think it's seriously that big of an issue, follow it with some dollars.”
Boone said he feels good about the way KCDJFS revamped children's services regarding staffing and placement issues. He said that staff members are doing “more thoughtful, diligent assessments now” but noted that this increased thoroughness often reveals more children in unsafe environments. He said that KCJFS has been fortunate to find kinship residences for many of the children, adding that his hope and ambition moving forward is to be more proactive and have families in place should something happen.
He said staff members are doing an analysis of the children placed in care to determine if they are receiving the right level of care. For example, some are placed in Cleveland facilities; staff members are evaluating whether a different type of home closer to the child's community would be better suited.
“We've already uncovered some analysis that makes us believe we can make some restrictions and place children in a lesser environment,” he said. “Now we're working on bringing in more foster homes so that children won't have to be separated from their schools and community.”
The goal is to have 20 to 25 homes available. Six families have responded thus far. “It's early in the movement and we believe we'll get more moving forward,” said Kurtz.
The commissioners presented Kurtz with a proclamation proclaiming April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.