Northeast Ohio foster parent: Social workers refused to take child back for days despite safety concerns

Published: Nov. 11, 2022 at 9:07 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A foster parent contacted 19 Investigates because he was a dad fed up and concerned for his safety.

A foster parent contacted 19 Investigates, because he was dad fed up and concerned for safety. Joseph Hayes says Ashtabula County refused to take back a difficult child for days. The county says the unfortunate situation amplifies a placement crisis in our state.

Posted by Hannah Catlett on Friday, November 11, 2022

Joseph Hayes says Ashtabula County refused to take back a difficult child for days.

The county says the unfortunate situation amplifies a placement crisis in our state.

ENTIRE INTERVIEW: Northeast Ohio officials are now proposing ideas that could change both the lives of vulnerable children in foster care and their social workers. A recent 19 News Investigation revealed dozens of teens in foster care spent more than one night in an office building downtown so far this year. The new head of Cuyahoga County's Department of Child and Family Services sat down with 19 Investigates to talk about the ideas. We felt the conversation was so important, we are uploading the entire 20+ minute long discussion. ... continuing coverage of all we talked about and more to come in the days ahead.

Posted by Hannah Catlett on Monday, September 12, 2022

19 Investigates began digging deeper into the issue this summer when we learned dozens of children had stayed the night at a Cuyahoga County office building.

This is a story everyone needs to see... one of the most heartbreaking interviews I've done in a while. This mother says told me she is at a loss for how to help her son & other kids living downtown at a county office building, because they have nowhere else to go.

Posted by Hannah Catlett on Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Now, we are expanding our coverage outside of Cleveland with Hayes’s story.

Hayes is an Army veteran. He served our country overseas though multiple deployments. After the military, Hayes worked in a correctional facility before he retired.

After years of working through PTSD and anger management courses, he was ready to serve his community in a new way.

“I don’t like to see a child without a home,” he said.

He says he had to go through a process to show officials he was capable of fostering kids.

“Yeah, I had to see mental health, the heart doctor and my personal doctor, and they had to write a letter to county and let them know that I was I was able to do this,” he said.

Last month though, he says a child nearly brought him to a breaking point.

“I didn’t trust myself because it was really affecting me mentally,” he said.

He says the child had been placed with him, because he had gotten into fights with other kids at the last foster home. Hayes says he came to realize he too just couldn’t handle what he described as vulgar actions in public and screaming at home.

Hayes called the county and told them he needed the child removed. A call he says was not taken seriously until a week later, when 19 investigates got involved.

“If you and Channel 19 wouldn’t have got involved, I would have still had that kid,” he said.

Tania Burnett is the Ashtabula County Children Services Board Executive Director. She tells us what happened to Mr. Hayes isn’t uncommon.

In an email, she said “This is an unfortunate situation. When a foster parent wishes a child to be removed from their home, we ask that they give us 30 days to locate a home for the child. We need time to find the best possible situation for a child so that they are not further traumatized by multiple moves.”

But could that practice be putting Ohio children at risk?

It’s unclear how often the county has foster parents trying to return a troubled child. But we asked the director, what if something happened to a child after the foster parent had notified the county of their struggle?

Burnett said, “We would never knowing[ly] put a child at risk. The child’s behaviors were not that concerning to us because we know that many of our children have behaviors that are a result of their trauma histories so we were really trying to get him to hang on to give us time to find the best option for the child. Once Mr. Hayes made comments about his mental health, we found a respite home for the child. Unfortunately, that home is just for one night. We are trying to find a family member who is willing to care for him; if that falls through, we may have to go with placement in a residential center for him. We need more family resources for our kids in Ashtabula and in every other county.”

We also asked whether children are spending the night any Ashtabula county office building like we discovered is happening in Cuyahoga County.

Burnett said, “We have been fortunate so far and have not had a child stay in our building; however we have come close many times—like today. A few years ago we did have a 5 year old, non-verbal autistic child stay with us. We took shifts and stayed with him for 5 days until a kinship home could be secured. There were just no foster homes that would take him at the time. We’ve never had enough foster homes—even at our highest point. We try to match the child’s needs with the strengths of the family to minimize moves for the child. Foster families choose the age, gender, behavioral issues they accept. We want the kids to stay in their community, same school, siblings together. We know it’s a lot to ask of a family!”

“There’s a lot of children out there that have no homes and you got children in treatment facilities that no one wants,” Hayes said. “If a treatment facility, if they’re not taking them and a foster parent doesn’t want that disruptive behavior in their home. Where do they go?”

After nearly a decade of fostering, Hayes is no longer willing to do it.

“I signed the paper and said I don’t want to do it no more,” he said.

He knows that moves the needle in the opposite direction of where it needs to go when it comes to placement options, and it upsets him.

“You need your foster parents,” he said. “If the foster parent cannot have that child removed. What do they do? Because you can call all these different people, and no one-- and I mean no one-- will help you.”

We checked back in with Ashtabula County this week, asking whether social workers found a more permanent placement for the child who was removed from Hayes. We are still waiting to hear back.