The search is on for foster families.
Clinton County Job and Family Services is currently seeking foster families for 69 children in its network.
“The number has been growing just as of a week ago,” said Kathi Spirk, director of JFS.
Between July 9 and July 16, JFS received custody of 11 children, all from different families.
Fortunately, the 11 children were able to stay local, but that poses problems for future foster kids, said Gina Speaks Eshler, deputy director for JFS. No more kids will be able to be housed in the county, she said.
Of the 69 kids, 24 are housed out of county in what is called purchase care — residential treatment, group homes and therapeutic foster networks, Speaks Eshler said.
“Many of those trips take a day or more to go and see a child,” she said.
Speaks Eshler said a lot of the foster cases involve drugs, which means more children may enter care while there aren’t enough caseworkers.
In addition to foster families, JFS is looking to fill three entry-level vacancies. Caseworkers are working later hours and helping each other cover cases because of the shortage.
The problem is not only in Clinton County.
“Statewide … child welfare workers are leaving the field,” Speaks Eshler said.
Those caseworkers are moving into other fields of public service because of the emotional toll the job leaves with workers, the nature of the work and the requirements of the work, she said.
“It’s an entry-level position, but it’s not entry-level work when you’re dealing with children,” Speaks Eshler said. “We’re very fortunate to employ the staff that we do have.”
If people want to become a caseworker, they must have a bachelor’s degree and complete 102 hours of training during their first year of work. After the first year of work, caseworkers have to do training to stay up to date, Speaks Eshler said.
While the work may be difficult, Speaks Eshler said it can be a rewarding job.
“Many people who are in public service feel a deep sense of community and want to better families and keep kids safe,” she said.
Caseworkers might have an emotional job, but JFS makes sure the employees are comfortable, Spirk said.
“We try our best to create an environment where there’s a team,” she said.
JFS is also keeping busy with other projects besides finding foster homes, Spirk said.
“Job and Family Services always has a lot of things going on,” she said.
As of July 1, the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act was implemented for the state, affecting Ohio Means Jobs.
WIOA’s area seven designation was denied, a decision that’s under appeal. Area seven includes Clinton County and 42 other counties. JFS is waiting to see what will happen regarding that designation, according to Spirk.
WIOA is designed to help people looking for jobs access services to succeed in their careers. Through WIOA, people can look for employment, education, training and support services.
Through OMJ, between 400 and 500 people are served by JFS.
“We are implementing the new WIOA legislation although it’s not completely clear to us; there have not been clarifications made as to what some of the new rules mean,” Spirk said. “At this point we have what we know and we are following through.”
OMJ is primarily focusing on people ages 16 to 24 right now and providing any and all services it can, she said.
OMJ is also working on a project called Layoff Aversion, which has been in the works for about six months now.
Layoff Aversion provides training to workers so instead of being laid off, they can be promoted into higher positions. The program is currently serving five businesses and 172 employees, Spirk said.
In the family services area, Spirk said JFS is dealing with some of the 95,000 Ohio residents who were removed from Medicaid. Each county in the state had to pick up its portion of residents, she said.
While there are issues with Medicaid, child support collections are right on target at about 70 percent, Spirk said.
“Things are going smoothly in that department,” she said.
To bring awareness to and to symbolize the growth of Clinton County’s and Ohio’s child support system, August was proclaimed Child Support Awareness Month. Aug. 5 is set to be “Wear Green to Work Day.”