Becky James, Darke County Jobs & Family Services Social Services administrator, said removing a child from his or her home is the “worst task we have here.” It happens maybe five or six times a year. She said the state mandate is to preserve the family if possible. However if the child is not safe, he or she has to be removed.
“We have to weigh immediate safety versus the child staying safely with our services,” she said. Children see their parents as all powerful. “This is their life!”
The consequences of removing a child could be aggression, depression, distrust, aggressive behavior. However if the abuse continues, the child can become complacent… can lead to crime, running away, drugs and alcohol, promiscuity… and depression.
James said her department has two mandates. One is “child protective.” The other is “adult protective” (over 60 years of age). The same ‘team’ works with both. There are four case workers, including James, with another one in training. Her team is experienced, with two at 20 years. James has 14 years experience. “We have a stable team,” she said, while other counties tend to have a revolving door. “Some of the horrible things we see done to kids.” They can’t take it; they don’t get the proper guidance and support.
“Most of our calls have to do with child protection,” she said. “With the older adults we mostly see allegations of exploitation.” There are also concerns with self-neglect, medications and the home environment.
Calls seem to be cyclical. “We joke about the full moon… sometimes we have to joke to survive this.” James smile ruefully. She thought about it; said they get approximately 50 to 125 calls a month. Some are serious, some aren’t.
“We have state laws we have to abide by and they may not always agree with community values.” The state, for instance says if a child is sleeping with no pillows and no sheets, there could be a neglect problem; other pieces may be involved that should be considered. The community may disagree. The state says it’s not illegal for a child to be spanked by a parent. “My feeling is it isn’t a good practice,” James said. “It’s legal, but if people see a parent spanking a child they think it’s abusive.”
The factors involved would be marks on the child’s body; does the child need medical attention? All the pieces have to be in play.
“When we get a call we have to ask if the call is credible. What factors, contributors, dynamics do you consider credible?” If a case worker determines they are there, they open the case. Determining the “immediate safety” of the child is always a challenge… “We don’t always have all the pieces,” she said.
Sometimes a parent just gets angry. The adult is remorseful… it never happens again. The caseworker has to assess the situation and, wherever possible, work with the family. They will work with parents to help keep them from stepping over the line. There are parenting classes to help with this.
“We have our own people to work with high risk families,” she said.
James has observed an increased need for services over the years. Why? “I could fill a book,” she said. She added mainly changes in family dynamics. Technology has impacted society dramatically. More bad behaviors going on. Perps have more access because of the Internet.
“We used to say, ‘it’s 9 o’clock. Do you know where your kids are?’ Now we say, ‘it’s 9 o’clock, do you know what your kids are doing on the computer?’” She noted there’s also more emphasis on reporting. The majority of calls come from concerned individuals; a secondary source of calls comes from those with mandates, such as doctors and teachers. Sexual abuse, for instance, is now talked about more openly whereas before the subject was taboo.
“There seems to be a general deterioration in our society,” she said. “A greater acceptance of less than desirable behavior.”
The impact of drugs and alcohol? “Huge!!” James exclaimed. It’s huge, she repeated, noting it’s a factor in the majority of their cases. “HUGE!!!”
Some parents realize their addictions are not safe for kids. They work hard to kick it. “We do make an impact,” she said. “We work really hard to keep children safe AND support their families.
James said anyone with concerns should call them, 548-4132. Sometimes they don’t call for fear of losing children. “That is not what we want. We want to help families get back to healthy lives.”