Cuyahoga County officials work to decrease number of kids left overnight at office building

Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 2:39 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A recent 19 News investigation revealed dozens of teens spent more than one night in a Cuyahoga County office building in downtown Cleveland so far this year.

Now, county officials are proposing ideas that could change both the lives of vulnerable children and their social workers.

Jacqueline Fletcher is the new interim director of Cuyahoga County’s Child and Family Services.

She says she’s working on plans with her team, to keep children from having to spend the night in the Jane Edna Hunter office building.

“I don’t think we can overcommunicate what’s going on with our kids and our families,” She said.

Our conversation with Fletcher was spurred by the stories of real families in our communities.

Foster and adoptive mothers came to us, begging for anyone and everyone to help with the placement crisis going on across the entire state.

“They are courageous. They are courageous. I applaud them,” Fletcher said.

Specifically, the mothers are worried about the kids who need help beyond a family setting.

They are often times violent and struggling with mental illness.

They’re the ones the county says end up at the county’s office building the most, because residential facilities aren’t willing take on their challenges.

“Those type of kids who come to our attention, the resources for them have been slowly dwindling,” Fletcher said. “We’ve seen this sort of slow vacuum, if I can call it that, of resources being pulled out of our communities to really address the needs of kids with the highest level of needs. There are so many reasons [why]. I think partly some of it has to do with Medicaid. Some of it has to do with just insurance. We’ve seen our staffing levels across all of our continuums sort of dwindle as well-- 88 counties in Ohio all vying for the same resources. So, as we’ve seen this drift away from residential facilities, we’ve had to make some adjustments and how we address those needs that those children and families come with.”

After reissuing the call for help from community partners recently, Fletcher says the Centers for Family and Children proposed a plan that would open up eight beds for kids who are awaiting placement.

And, unlike at other residential facilities, the children wouldn’t have to meet any standard requirement to be accepted in.

“They wont reject or eject any particular child waiting that placement that they are needing,” Fletcher said.

The county approved an emergency contract with The Centers last week. It provides $500,000 for the facility to begin preparations for additional intakes.

Eventually, the contract will have to go back before county council for additional funding, but officials are not sure when that will happen yet.

In the meantime, the county has already committed a sheriff’s deputy to the Jane Edna building 24 hours a day.

“We heard very clearly that, you know staff weren’t feeling a safe,” Fletcher said.

19 News told you about concerns workers voiced in July.

Two social workers addressed county council, saying the troubled teens coming into Jane Edna were a threat to not only each other, but the employees.

“It’s a struggle right to have kids come in with this high level,” Fletcher said.

That’s why the director also says her department will propose a plan to give raises to social workers.

“Many of us didn’t get into the field for the pay, but it helps,” Fletcher said.

More pay and fewer kids saying at their office building, Fletcher says, is the key to keep good social workers.

But, there’s no real timeline for when the raises will be proposed or go into effect, beds will open up at the Centers and kids will no longer be forced to stay the night at Jane Edna’s childcare room.

“I can’t give you a timeline or magic bullet. I can only say these are the ingredients that I believe are helping to address the placement crisis,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher stressed that she truly believes in also improving the services for families so they can reunite with their children.

If you would like to get involved with supporting families your area, the county has several ways to do that listed on their website.

The state also has several resources available to those who would like to explore becoming a foster parent.