MOUNT GILEAD — Two families from the Northmor community met with Morrow County Commissioners last week to update them on activities of the Morrow County Foster Family Coalition.
They reported that the County Job and Family Services (JFS) Director requested an audit of policies and practices about a case in the county. The coalition continues to lobby for accountability for how foster children are treated.
Anna and Wesley Cleveland, along with Elliot Wall, read letters of concern about two toddlers and three older children who were taken from a foster family in their neighborhood without prior notice. They also expressed concern for the older boys in the family who had been their baseball teammates.
Anna and Wesley’s mom, Sarah Cleveland, has been a foster parent to 15 children. Sarah is concerned about the accountability of the Children’s Services and Foster Children System in Morrow County and in Ohio.
Sarah, along with other members of the foster parents group, met with State Rep. Riordan McClain in December to express their concerns. A major concern is they contend that children are sometimes being put in unsafe homes as they are reunited with their birth parents.
In a phone conversation this week, Rep. McClain said he is following the audit of the Morrow County family by the Ohio Job and Family Services. He wants to make sure that the actions of JFS follow the policies and practices intended.
McClain said the audit should be completed within 90 days. He also realizes that some of the findings of the audit will likely not be available to the public.
“We need due diligence in this situation,” McClain said. “We need to look at if there is something we can do on policy if changes are needed.”
Morrow County JFS Director Sundie Brown responded to questions about the audit.
“I’m legally prohibited from commenting on the specifics of any Children Services cases. The primary responsibility of Morrow County Job and Family Services, Children Services is to keep families together.
“Foster families work with Morrow County Job and Family Services Children Services to ensure a child’s needs are being met while the child’s family takes the necessary steps to ensure the child’s safety and wellbeing. Foster Care is intended as a temporary situation. The primary goal of foster care is to reunite families or ensure the child will leave foster care for a permanent placement,” she said.
The foster parents say they realize that it is beneficial to have reunification with birth parents. But they have observed that it is sometimes done without regard to whether the birth parents’ home will be safe. They also allege that the judge and courts making the decision on reunification are not always given all the pertinent information.
“We have a commitment to protect the foster children,” said Sarah Cleveland. “I’m tired of hearing, ‘That’s just the way the system works.’”
Cleveland said she has also seen comments on the Internet where other foster parents tell about similar situations.
Cleveland said that they want to be a voice for the children with the Foster Parents Coalition. She said Morrow County has lost foster families because of some of the practices in the system. They want to ensure that there are foster parent families in Morrow County because it they believe it good to keep children in their school and near home, rather than putting them in foster homes outside the county.
“Foster parents serve an important role in each child’s life. There continues to be a need for additional foster parents in Morrow County,” Brown said.