November 23, 2014

Elyria
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State agency has oversight of Children Services

ELYRIA — Lorain County Children Services Board members will have little involvement in an internal investigation of the agency, according to one board member. A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services — the organization that oversees the agency — said its oversight powers are limited, too.

Children Services launched the investigation after questions were raised about how it handled the case of Erica Perez, a 28-year-old Lorain woman who was found living in filth with seven of her children on July 5 while under agency supervision.

But the investigation has the agency policing itself, so to speak. There isn’t another agency tasked with examining whether day-to-day actions by Children Services are appropriate.

Children Services board member Toni Shanahan said the board’s members, who are appointed by Lorain County Commissioners, do not oversee daily operations of the agency and are not qualified to determine whether its cases are handled properly.

Shanahan, who also serves as an administrative assistant for Commissioner Ted Kalo, said the board’s main objective is to oversee Children Services’ executive director, Gary Crow.

Crow was hired to head Lorain County Children Services in 1994 and began in January of the following year. Formerly, Crow managed a North Carolina agency for adults and children with mental disabilities and drug problems.

In 2011, Crow was one of the highest-paid Lorain County employees with a salary of $129,611.42.

Patti-Jo Burtnett, spokeswoman for Children Services, said it is not the board who oversees the agency, however, but the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
But Ben Johnson, a spokesman for that state agency, said its powers are narrow.

Although the department conducts reviews of every public Children Services agency once every two years for compliance with federal and state laws, the reviews are conducted of the agency’s record- and log-keeping.

Johnson said at no time do agency employees enter a home with a caseworker or oversee daily operations of the agency.

“Our action would be with the entity but not with any specific staff  … we can’t discipline. We can’t terminate anyone,” he said.

Johnson said the department also investigates any complaints against an agency. If it found any wrongdoing, it would work with the agency to submit a “corrective action plan” and make sure that plan was implemented, he said.

Since July 2009, the department has received one complaint against Lorain County Children Services, but the details of that complaint were not available Friday.

Johnson said the hiring and firing of employees, as well as oversight into daily operations, would likely be the responsibility of an oversight committee or board.

But Shanahan said that isn’t the Children Services board as it is kept in the dark regarding the agency’s cases because so much of the information from cases is deemed confidential.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.