Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Collaboration Leads to Improvements in Child Welfare

Teams from 52 Ohio counties gathered at the Supreme Court of Ohio’s Summit on Children to identify ways to increase collaboration between the courts, children services, and families. The teams included judges, child welfare workers, attorneys, guardians ad litem, and youth participants who shared their own personal stories of growing up in the foster care system.

The Summit featured speakers from around the country sharing best practices to improve outcomes for children and families involved in the child welfare system. Chief Justice Darlene Byrne of the Texas Third Court of Appeals in Austin described ways courts can intervene earlier in the case to better connect families with services and reduce the time children spend away from home. David Reed from the Indiana Department of Children Services talked about how that state worked to reduce the unnecessary use of institutions for youth in foster care placements. William Bell, president and CEO of Casey Family Programs, examined ways courts, agencies, and community partners can work together to build a “community of hope.”

From the Bench to Child Welfare Agencies
For Champaign County Family Court Judge Lori Reisinger, collaboration and teamwork has been her goal since joining the court. In her early days as an assistant prosecutor, she shadowed caseworkers during family visits and got a deeper appreciation of the system.

“That kind of laid the foundation for me to understand what they did, how important it was, and that they really had the same interest I do. And that’s helping families,” she said.

During the Summit, Judge Reisinger joined Summit County Juvenile Court Judge Linda Teodosio and local children and family services leaders for a panel discussion. They talked about ways to build partnerships and increase teamwork between judges and caseworkers. Key steps included having regular meetings with the agencies and establishing clear and open lines of communication where everyone feels heard and understood.

Judge Teodosio echoed to the group that everyone is working toward the same goal.

“What has made it successful in our community is the fact that not only are we willing to collaborate and always come to the table, but I think we are able to be honest with each other in a respectful manner to solve problems,” she said.

From Child Welfare Agencies to Families
When the Supreme Court held the Summit on Children in 2008, the idea of letting young people contribute to solutions in their case was a key takeaway for many county leaders. Nearly 15 years later, Montgomery County Child and Family Services permanency coordinator Julie Pennington recognizes the benefit of children having an active role in their court proceedings.

“We want them to know that they have a say in their case. They have a voice. They need to be aware of what’s happening to them and their family,” she said.

High school senior Marcos Barker is on the Children’s Services Youth Advisory Board in Montgomery County. The board consists of emancipated youth and children in foster care who share their first-hand experiences to offer improvements to the foster care system. Marcos was grateful for the opportunity to attend the Summit and be heard. He’s learning more about the work of the court, case workers, and other child welfare leaders.

“I’m getting to know what’s happening more behind the scenes of my life than just what people are telling me,” he said.

From the Summit to Home
Each county team that attended the summit developed an action plan using new strategies and best practices to address the specific needs of their community. They listed ways for all partners to contribute and identified specific steps for implementing change in their practices to help children and families in crisis. Additionally, the leaders got to know each other on a more personal level.

“When you're sitting at a table with someone for a couple days and sharing meals, you get to know them on a level that's different than just seeing them in court,” Judge Reisinger said. “You learn about their families or, you know, their life outside of the court. It makes them real and that's been very, very helpful.”