NEW LEXINGTON — In a surprising somewhat warmer and sunny day in the Village of New Lexington, The Perry County Chamber of Commerce gathered at The Gathering Place along West Broadway Street with guest speaker, Perry County Children’s Services Director Amy Frame presenting.Perry County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Ulmer observed the surprisingly small crowd present and welcomed Frame to speak with local business and community leaders. Perry County Commissioner Scott Owen was present for the luncheon presentation.
“This is one of my first times being in front of a group of people to speak about Children’s Services since I became director in August of last year,” Frame told those present.
Frame added that she has been in her new role for seven months and that the transition came with “growing pains.” She continued stating that the first part of her presentation would cover how her agency gets funding.
“Ohio is unique in that we are one of nine states who is county administered,” Frame explained. “The state makes the rules, we follow those rules, they audit us and make sure we that we follow those rules.”
Frame added that Perry County Children’s Services gets its funding in three different ways. Government funding comes from the federal level, the state level and the local county level adding that a “bulk” of funding comes locally sourced.
Frame stated that the county has currently two tax levies that assist in funding. Those two levies bring in $1.2 million to the agency. The money that gets set aside for replacements and salary for its workers as well as basic agency functions, according to Frame.
Frame pivoted to the numbers and statistics of reports and children served in the county. In 2019, the agency received 1,142 reports concerning children in the county. The agency investigated 234 of the calls that were sent in. Frame added that the agency had removed “somewhere between” 50-55 children from homes.
“Some of the kids that were in care in 2018 crossed over… I don’t have a solid number right now,” Frame stated. “That’s pretty low for us.”
Back in 2013, Children’s Services had 115 children in care adding that this was the reason the agency promoted having a second levy to help assist those in need.
“We needed additional financial support from our local taxpayers in order to be able to function,” Frame explained. “So 50 kids in a year, we are thrilled with that number.”
Continuing with her presentation, Frame explained that 74 percent of the children the agency worked with last year were between the ages of 0-3 years old and 13-17 years old. She added the ages fit in with the recent trends the agency has seen. The most vulnerable children are between the ages of 0-3 years old.
“We are obviously wanting to protect the most vulnerable kids in our community,” Frame stated.
The agency director added that she sees a lot of activity with teenagers who may have behavioral problems and also have court involvement. Also, the agency sees many of the teenage children being raised by grandparents through kinship with some being unable to find the financial support needed to take care of them.
Frame went on to another topic covering some of the myths regarding Children’s Services and its intentions when responding to reports of child welfare. She said that some locals have the notion that workers at the agency are “baby snatchers” which Frame quickly regarded as being the “Hollywood” version of what they do. She added that some believe that Children’s Services damages the family by taking children “kicking and screaming.”
“It’s certainly not reflective of the real world and what we do,” Frame said. “Case workers generally get into child welfare not for financial reasons but because they have a passion to work with families to resolve issues of safety.”
The director added that when a call comes to the agency regarding child welfare, they are looking for signs of safety. They assess risks in a home to make proper recommendations to make the home safer for children. Workers may continue to visit with a certain home and family in an effort to resolve issues.
If a child is harmed physically and evidence supports claims, the agency will remove children from a home in order to confirm safety. Frame stated that removal comes as a last resort as the number one priority for the agency is to keep the child in the home. If not possible, the agency will look towards other family members or close friends to ensure a child’s wellbeing.
Frame stated that Perry County Children’s Services has a good working relationship with the county courts. Working with Judge Luann Cooperrider as she helps determine whether a child is unsafe in a certain home.
“We do not have the authority to go in and remove children,” Frame said. “That is a partnership with our court.”
Another misconception Frame has heard in her position is that child protection agencies are paid to remove children. The director added that she has heard repeatedly that her agency needs to get children in order to receive funding, this is not the case. If a child comes into care, 62 percent of funding for that child comes from the federal government while the remaining percentage comes from local tax dollars. While the agency is happy to see a larger budget last year, Ohio is around 48 in the country when it comes to the state funding child welfare agencies.
“We are in a system that has been underfunded for so long that one budget doubling isn’t going to fix the problems that we see in our system,” Frame said.
Frame added that there is a need for more foster homes in the county. Right now, there are only 12 licensed homes in the county. It costs the agency more to send children outside of the area rather than keeping them in Perry County.