4/10/2018 5:37:00 PM Children's issues in the spotlight Opioid-drug crisis, foster care needs among meeting topics
Vinton County Prosecuting Attorney Trecia Kimes-Brown (standing, left) spoke about the legal and social implications involved in dealing with children’s support issues. Her remarks came at the first stakeholders’ meeting of the county’s Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Committee. (Telegram Photos
By Red Thompson, Jr.)
A cornucopia of children's support and protection issues and problems, along with the social and financial impacts they create, were addressed at the first meeting of the stakeholders of the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Committee.
The forum-style session was held Tuesday, April 3 at the McArthur United Methodist Church and was organized and hosted by Vinton County Prosecuting Attorney Trecia Kimes-Brown. It also served as a kickoff for National Child Abuse Prevention Month held in April.
A number of speakers shared their knowledge, insights and comments, including: Vinton County Probate-Juvenile Judge Bob Grillo, South Central Job and Family Service Executive Director Jody Walker, Vinton County Local Schools Assistant Superintendent Mary Ann Hale, and Jackson County and Probate-Juvenile Judge Steve Michael. Also attending were Vinton County Sheriff Shawn Justice and McArthur Police Chief Matt Kight.
Many of these children's social issues are also compounded by Ohio's opioid-drug crisis which results in less resources and family-related problems in homes.
Foster Care: An Increasing Demand
Many of the speakers dwelled on the issue of foster care and the impact it has on Vinton County. Walker explained these increasing costs are part of why the senior citizens'/children's levy was placed on the ballot. It passed and will add more than $200,000 in annual funding for children's services.
He added foster care is becoming a big part of the county's budget, costing almost half a million dollars a year. Walker pointed out the problem is worsened by the opioid-drug crisis.
Many of the parents get put in jail and this compounds the problem and adds to the social-services cost with medical costs being part of it. Judge Grillo reported the county has offered help to addicted persons through the Drug Court program.
The Drug Court involves court-supervised dockets providing treatment as a sentencing alternative. Judge Grillo noted the county has had a successful Drug Court before and plans to start one again.
"I am absolutely a big fan of Drug Courts," said Judge Grillo. However, he also cautioned they are not a 100-percent solution as some people slip and regress in spite of the attempts to help them. Overall, though, he feels it offers a positive alternative for many people.
Judge Michael noted that a mental health counselor was placed at Jackson High School and this has proven to be a very successful program for students and families.
Aside from the foster-care costs to the social-services system, the children's quality-of-life issues were touched upon by Hale as she commented on the school's role in the situation.
"We are responsible for their education and we try to help them with their basic human needs, too," said Hale. She further noted the lack of proper nutrition is a problem children face as the school meals are the only ones they will have.
"It put the kids in survival mode and that makes it difficult for them to excel," Hale concluded.
She explained the Vinton County Schools work with many supporting agencies and also joined with others in saying the drug problem contributes to the challenges many children face. Hale also stated the county needs more foster care providers.
Handling Violators, Looking For Solutions
Kimes-Brown says she sees the problems with children from various perspectives as she prosecutes a wide range of cases.
As the prosecutor, Kimes-Brown tries to bring people together with the example of this type of community forum and interactive session. She and other Vinton County officials and stakeholders want to be part of a plan to repurpose Hocking Correctional Facility, which is closing. There are several ideas being proposed, including treatment centers or possibly a holding facility for criminal offenders - both of which are seen as areas of great need.
When she is in the courtroom, Kimes-Brown says she wants to ensure that a violator pays for what he or she has done to a child. She also stated Vinton County was among the first counties in the state to file lawsuits against the large drug companies for damages they have allegedly created. She also stated while the cases are bundled, it is not a class-action suit, meaning Vinton County cases will be not be tied to a win or loss of other filers.
Judge Grillo added that sometimes he decrees emergency custody orders in some of the cases coming before him. Under Ohio law, the courts can grant emergency temporary custody only in these circumstances:
* Child endangerment due to drug or alcohol abuse by parent;
* Threats of mistreatment or abuse;
* Alleged sexual abuse;
* Current custody is in the possession of a convicted sex offender.
Judge Grillo explained many courts will not order emergency custodies, but sometimes he feels it is the best course of action.
Many of the speakers also reached a general consensus that parents need to take a stronger role in helping their children.