November 26, 2014

Elyria
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Supervisor in Perez case suspended two weeks without pay

ELYRIA — The supervisor overseeing the case of the Lorain mother whose seven children were found living in a filthy home was suspended for two weeks without pay, according to Lorain County Children Services’ records.

Children Services alleges that Nancy Griffiths “failed to provide the necessary supervision and oversight to supervisees to ensure appropriate concurrent planning and safety” in seven of her cases. Children Services declined to specify whether those cases were separate or all related to Erica Perez and her children.

Griffiths was placed on paid administrative leave July 11 when Children Services launched an internal investigation into how it handled Perez’s case.

Perez, 28, was arrested and charged with seven counts of child endangering July 5, as well as other charges, after police found seven of her children — ages 1 to 9 — living in a garbage-strewn home that had little food in it and only a single, crib-sized mattress.

The baby’s diaper hadn’t been changed for days, authorities said, and he was covered in feces and peanut butter.

Her oldest child, 12, was living with a relative at the time of her arrest.

Police were called to the neighborhood after an intoxicated Perez, who is pregnant, started screaming at her neighbors near her Long Avenue home, accusing them of stealing her cell phone.

An affidavit filed after Perez’s arrest by Children Services said that caseworkers had visited the home several times prior to her arrest and on at least one of those visits, caseworker Stephen Silva said that the home was filthy and had very little food in it.

That affidavit, filed as Children Services sought emergency custody of the children, said that Perez had lost custody of her children in 2008, but they were returned to her four months later.

In addition to the discipline of Griffiths, the fallout from the case prompted Silva to tender his resignation. Silva filed his resignation request July 12.

Silva, 62, worked for Children Services since 2008 and received a salary of $59,100 in 2011.

Silva declined to comment when contacted Monday, but a letter from him to Don Starett, the manager of Human Resources for Children Services, indicated that Silva initially was unsure about whether to quit.

“I have decided to resign,” read the letter. “I apologize for my indecisiveness. This has been a difficult decision for me.”

Silva’s exit interview, a standardized form that he filled out that was added to his personnel file, notes that the things he liked least about his job were “Rate of change … Loss of Training. Adjustments.” He also wrote “hire more quickly. Need a full staff to take the pressure off.’’

In an “other comments” section on the form, Silva wrote: “Caseworkers are my heros (sic).”

Patti-Jo Burtnett, spokeswoman for Children Services, said in an earlier interview that the agency’s caseworkers’ caseloads are not unmanageable. She said they handle an average of eight to nine cases per worker, compared with the average caseload for a caseworker in Ohio of 10 to 11 cases.

Michael Illner, a former prosecutor for Children Services who now is in private practice, said employee turnover at the agency had been a problem in the past, but since Gary Crow took the reins in January 1995 and required all supervisors have master’s degrees, employee retention increased.

Illner also praised Griffiths, who he said is very experienced.

According to Griffiths’ personnel files, she has worked for Children Services for 20 years and has received “met expectations” reviews, the highest rating, in every annual review. In 2011, she was paid an annual salary of $65,499.

According to paperwork in her personnel file, Griffiths waived her rights to a pre-disciplinary hearing with the agency after the findings of the investigation were released.

Crow wrote in a letter to Griffiths that she would receive no further discipline for the incidents unless she was unable to fulfill future job requirements.

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