Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Ohio Supreme Court Addresses Child Welfare Safety

The Ohio Supreme Court’s Children and Families Section invited judges, prosecutors, child welfare agencies, and experts to a recent forum to try to improve collaboration in child welfare cases.

This was the annual multi-disciplinary training hosted in collaboration with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

“We started the day looking at the child safety decision-making process,” said Veronica Burroughs, court improvement program analyst for the Children and Families Section. “We are addressing how all of the players in these cases are able to communicate effectively.”

One challenge is that courts and child welfare agencies sometimes speak two different languages.

“It’s really important for us to have opportunities like today to come together to develop a common language,” said Carla Carpenter, deputy director of the Office of Families and Children in the Department of Job and Family Services. “It’s about creating a shared understanding to do collaborative planning together and really lay the groundwork for what we do together on behalf of children and families every day.”

One suggestion? Experts say it’s critical to ask six key questions to determine whether a child is safe to return to the home:

  • What is the nature of the maltreatment?
  • What are the circumstances?
  • What is the child’s day-to-day functioning?
  • What is the parental discipline?
  • What are the parenting practices?
  • What are the parents’ life management skills?

“They talked about the six concepts and the six questions to ask with regard to removal,” Franklin County Magistrate Michelle Edgar said. “We are definitely going to incorporate those into our entries and the information given to us by our child protective service workers.”

Another challenging issue is substance abuse in Ohio counties.  The group has teamed up with the non-profit Children and Family Future to help parents with mental health and substance abuse disorders maintain hope of achieving recovery and family stability so they can care for their children.

Jennifer Foley, senior program associate, spoke to the participants about the effects of substance use, evidence-based treatment, and how collaborative practices can help engage families for better outcomes.

“We’re looking at how recovery and that timeline works with the child welfare timeline in these cases,” Burroughs said.

Another focus of the day was effective representation for the families in child welfare cases.

Michele Cortese, from the Center for Family Representation, spoke to participants about the four cornerstones of representation:

  • Family visitation
  • Child placement
  • Services for the family
  • Out-of-court meetings

Many participants walked away with ideas on increasing community-based, family visitation.
The important takeaway for these partners was to find one thing from the conference and implement it in their courts, or their systems.

But it takes a team effort.

“Collaboration is critical to the work that we do with children and families,” Carpenter said. “Courts can’t do it alone, and child welfare agencies can’t do it alone. We need to work together. It’s important to get opportunities like the one today.”