Children staying fewer nights at Cuyahoga County office building, but officials still face huge placement gap
CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A Cleveland teen failed by a broken child welfare system, is now preparing to be shipped out of state.
It’s an update to a tragic story we told you this summer. The boy is just one of many troubled teens 19 Investigates discovered have spent part of the year living at a Cuyahoga County office building.
With nowhere to go and no time left to wait, Cheryl says her now 15-year-old son she adopted when as a baby is about to get sent to Tennessee.
“He doesn’t understand,” the boy’s mom, Cheryl, said. “He is not able to process that. He is too mentally ill.”
She says there’s a residential facility there that can handle his high level needs.
But, it’s more that just a financial cost on the county to send him out of state.
It’s an emotional one too as he’ll be hundreds of miles away.
“It’s overwhelming,” Cheryl said.
Her son was charged with attempted murder earlier this year. When he was declared incompetent to stand trial in any criminal case, Cheryl says officials wanted to send him home.
“That’s not a good situation for society,” she said.
That’s when Cheryl surrendered custody.
After our coverage this summer, the county gave The Centers for Family and Children hundreds of thousands of dollars to open eight beds-- beds the organization cannot refuse to a mentally ill child like Cheryl’s son.
Months later, we’re still waiting for those beds to be set up.
While the number of kids spending multiple nights at the county office building appears to be decreasing since our initial story, we obtained data that shows 91 kids spent at least one night there since July.
“Yes, we’re getting the eight beds and that’s beautiful, but that doesn’t hold all the children that we need,” Cheryl said. “My son was diagnosed as homicidal in February and released from the hospital. If they would have had a place to put him then, none of this would have happened. No problems would have happened that have happened since then.”
She’s been told her son will likely get sent out of state just a few weeks before the Center’s beds become available.
“It’s heartbreaking. I wish I could do more,” she said. “My son may never be able to benefit, but I will do everything possible to make sure the next child benefits, because this is not working for anyone. It’s not working for public safety either.”
She says teens that remain in and out of Jane Edna are a risk to everyone.
“Hurt children hurt other people,” she said.
And that’s why she’s so set on speaking out for the greater good.
“Bad things happen and we kind of sit around and go, ‘How did that happen? What could have we done to prevent it?’ Not that this would fix all problems, but this would help some of the violence, especially among our youth, if we could get our mentally ill youth the help that they need,” Cheryl said.
Cheryl’s friend Sarah Hihn has been fostering children in Cuyahoga County for more than a decade.
“We should not have to ship Ohio children out of state,” she said.
Data we uncovered in August shows more than 60 Cuyahoga County kids had been sent to live out of state.
Both women want to see more residential options open for kids with mental illness here in Northeast Ohio. They want new county leadership to consider that.
“I’m hopeful, but I am cautiously optimistic,” Hihn said. “These problems with social services are not new. I have been a foster parent for 16 years, and when I first started, these were the same stories. so in 16 years time I haven’t seen much movement. I’m not sure what the next 16 years would hold.
We reached out to Chris Ronayne last week, after he was elected to be the next county executive.
He doesn’t take office until January, but we wanted to talk to him about where aiding child and family services stands in his priorities.
A communications person told us he was busy and ultimately didn’t answer our request for an interview.
Regardless, these moms want him to hear this.
“This cannot be one person that solves this. This really needs to be a community effort,” Hihn said.
Hihn says the first step is meeting with parents like her and Cheryl.
“I believe in foster care so much, I really do,” Cheryl said.
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