Mother begs for change as her son, other children live in county office building with no where to go

Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 5:22 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A Lakewood mother said she is at a loss for how to help her son and several other at-risk children who are currently living downtown inside a county office building.

We first uncovered children staying overnight in the Jane Edna Hunter building in 2020 as a last resort, when the county said it couldn’t find homes for them during the pandemic.

Now, two years later, social workers said many children are still in and out of the building, and there’s concern not only over the kids’ safety but the public’s as well.

The mother we interviewed, Cheryl, began putting her son’s needs before hers nearly 15 years ago.

“I adopted him. He was four and a half pounds. We knew he had drug exposure. That’s never put me off,” she said.

We’re not naming him and blurring his face in pictures, because he’s in county custody right now.

“He has autism and fetal alcohol [syndrome], and now he also has post traumatic stress disorder,” Cheryl said.

She said her sons always required more attention, more help than the other children she’s fostered and adopted.

“But, he was a great child,” she said.

As her love grew for him over the years, so did the mental health concerns.

Cheryl said she lost custody of her son recently, because he became violent and too much to handle.

“I can’t keep him safe, and I can’t keep society safe. I can’t stop him either,” she said.

She showed us the documents saying her son was recently released from juvenile detention because a doctor found him incompetent to face the criminal charges pressed against him in a violent crime.

Now, no one seems to be able to find anywhere for him to live, even though she has secured the funding to send him to a residential facility.

“Yes. it would be through the Department of Human Services. They have already agreed,” she said.

Because of his severe mental health challenges and violent tenancies, she said residential care facilities have denied taking him in.

“He feels rejected. I know he does,” she said. “He should be locked up in all honesty. He needs it to protect himself. He needs it to protect you.”

Instead of a secure facility though, her son is in and out of the Jane Edna Hunter building downtown, often staying there overnight.

It’s not a treatment center. It’s not a residential home. It’s an office building where social workers do their jobs.

Workers spoke about their concerns for safety before county council earlier this summer.

“I am angry. This has been going on for over four years and nothing has happened” one worker said. “We need someone to do something about this.”

That’s why Cheryl came to 19 Investigates.

“These kids are unloved right now,” she said. ““It’s not a blame game. It’s not who’s at fault. I mean, we are all at fault. These kids need a place to go. We’ve known this for years.”

Her son’s story is just the tip of the iceberg, as we know by the social workers’ accounts, he is one of many at-risk teens assigned to live in an office building.

“These kids are throw away kids that often had never had a chance. So, we’re trying to keep them safe. We’re not trying to buy them cars. We’re trying to keep them safe and you safe,” Cheryl said.

To be clear, while Cheryl isn’t discounting the ongoing need for foster parents, she said the issues happening at Jane Edna specifically stem from a lack of specialized residential facilities and workers that can care for children like her son.

Cheryl said the county was able to find a respite home for her son to stay at last night, however this morning she said she got a call and was told it’s already been determined the placement was not a good fit and her son will be back at the Jane Edna Hunter building soon.

We started asking the county since the week after social workers spoke at council on July 5, just how many kids are staying at the Jane Edna building while waiting for placement.

More than a month later, we’re still waiting for the answer.

When we reached out to the county again Wednesday, a spokesperson told us she was unaware Cheryl’s child was already being sent back to Jane Edna Hunter.

The county sent us the following statement regarding this story:

There is a placement crisis in our county and throughout the state.

The Court held custody of the child from March until August 11th. DCFS and the mom have been trying to find placement for this child since March.

We petitioned for the judge to continue holding custody, but she granted custody to the agency, not the parent, and we will continue to search for an appropriate placement.

Currently, he is in a specialized respite home placement while we look for a more permanent situation. [Jane Edna Hunter] is never a solution for any child and, when a parent isn’t available or capable we do everything we can to find therapeutic and home care providers who will shelter and care for a multi-need child.

We simply don’t have enough providers in Cuyahoga County.

We agree with mom that we’re in the midst of a placement crisis; there simply aren’t enough residential beds.