April 24, 2014

Elyria
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Seattle documentary crew visits Lorain County Children Services

Christina Turcola, Direct Services supervisor, is interviewed by Carly Champoux, producer with Red Jet Films, for a mini-documentary on Lorain County Children Services Tuesday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

Christina Turcola, Direct Services supervisor, is interviewed by Carly Champoux, producer with Red Jet Films, for a mini-documentary on Lorain County Children Services Tuesday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — It was “lights, camera, action” at Lorain County Children Services on Tuesday as a film crew was at the agency.

Seattle-based video production crew Red Jet Films recorded an interview with interim Executive Director Jane Robertson and other employees after stopping at Lorain County Common Pleas Court for an interview with Juvenile Court Judge Debra Boros.

The film crew was hired by Casey Family Programs, the nation’s largest operating foundation focused on foster care and improving the child welfare system. Founded in 1966, Casey Family Programs works to provide and improve — and ultimately prevent the need for — foster care in the U.S., according to its website.

The organization was founded by Jim Casey, founder of United Parcel Service. According to the website, Casey saw a need to offer the love and support of a stable family to children, and that is why he founded the organization.

A spokeswoman for the Casey Family Foundation declined to comment on the video project when contacted Monday, saying that it is in its early stages and it is unknown how the video will be used.

Carly Champoux interviews Christina Turcola.

Carly Champoux interviews Christina Turcola.

Robertson said the agency was contacted by the Casey Family Foundation in July because of its standing since 1995 as a model agency for use of federal funds — Title IV-E waivers — given to children services agencies. Only a number of agencies in Ohio use the waiver agreements, according to Robertson, and Casey Family Foundation is working to expand usage of the waivers.

Before 1995, the agency received funding from the federal government that was dependent on the amount of children in foster care. As a requirement to receive the funding, children could only go to a licensed foster care setting. If they were placed with relatives or in an unlicensed facility, the agency would not receive the funding.

In 1995, the federal government began testing new ways of funding children services organizations, Robertson said. LCCS was one of 18 agencies in Ohio to begin using Title IV-E waivers.

With Title IV-E waivers, Robertson said, agencies receive a set amount of funding that could be used for parenting classes, transportation for families in the agency’s care and clothing vouchers for children. She said the flexible funding formula allowed children services to provide better outcomes.

“We can use it to prevent children from coming into placement,” she said. “The big emphasis is keeping kids with families and relatives. Kids should only be placed in foster care if there is absolutely, positively a need to go in foster care.”

Roberson said IV-E waivers ensured that children wouldn’t linger in foster care.

The 18 counties that participated in Ohio’s IV-E waiver extension have consistently shown briefer lengths of stay in children’s first placements, greater success in completing permanency plans for children in long-term foster care, higher rates of adoption and a higher proportion of children exiting foster care to extended family caregivers without a decline in safety measures, according to a 2010 report from the Casey Family Foundation on improving child welfare.

When the agency kicked off its reform in 1995, it decided to strive for “permanency in one year.” The goal was that residential placements needed to be short-term, and the focus needed to be on preventing placement and custody.

Spokeswoman Patti-Jo Burtnett said the agency’s statistics show that IV-E waivers have had a positive effect.

In January 1995, there were 349 children in the agency’s custody with 273 children living in paid placements, such as foster homes, residential facilities and group homes, according to information provided by the agency. In January 2011, there were 90 children in the agency’s custody with 79 children in paid placement — 76 of which were in foster homes.

Currently, the number of Lorain County children in placement per 1,000 is 1.23, compared with three to five children per 1,000 in other “metro” counties, according to a 2013 report from the Public Children Services Association of Ohio’s Factbook.

Lorain County Children Services finalized adoptions in 192 days, compared to 225 to 519 for comparison counties, according to the report.

Roberson said, despite the improved outcomes, many agencies were reluctant to begin the flexible funding program. She said agencies, like LCCS, have been working to prove to the federal government that an expansion of the Title IV-E waivers is beneficial.

That’s where Casey Family Programs comes in, she said.

“If you have funding and data that supports good outcomes, why wouldn’t you offer that to everyone?” she said.

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