Heart and Hustle in Hamilton County

Children's Services: Protecting Kids in Hamilton County

April 28, 2023 Bridget Doherty Season 3 Episode 1
Children's Services: Protecting Kids in Hamilton County
Heart and Hustle in Hamilton County
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Heart and Hustle in Hamilton County
Children's Services: Protecting Kids in Hamilton County
Apr 28, 2023 Season 3 Episode 1
Bridget Doherty

In 2022, over 50,000 calls rang into Hamilton County's 513-241-KIDS hotline, and over 6,000 cases were opened for assessment. During the entire month, Hamilton County Job and Family Services has been sharing tips on how to prevent child abuse and support families. HCJFS Director Michael Patton and Deputy Director of Children's Services Alexandra Patsfall  joined the Heart and Hustle Podcast to discuss the Child Abuse Prevention Month efforts and their #OneSmallThing  campaign. 

To learn more about Hamilton County, Ohio, our services and job openings, visit hamiltoncountyohio.gov.

Show Notes Transcript

In 2022, over 50,000 calls rang into Hamilton County's 513-241-KIDS hotline, and over 6,000 cases were opened for assessment. During the entire month, Hamilton County Job and Family Services has been sharing tips on how to prevent child abuse and support families. HCJFS Director Michael Patton and Deputy Director of Children's Services Alexandra Patsfall  joined the Heart and Hustle Podcast to discuss the Child Abuse Prevention Month efforts and their #OneSmallThing  campaign. 

To learn more about Hamilton County, Ohio, our services and job openings, visit hamiltoncountyohio.gov.

Jeff Aluotto:

Hello everyone and welcome to Heart and hustle in Hamilton County, a podcast entirely dedicated to the people and policies that form Hamilton county government. Why the name heart and hustle? Well best describes the public servants who make our local government work. Each episode focuses on creative solutions to the challenges our 49 communities face here in Hamilton County, as well as our different county departments tackle those challenges in local government 101, if you will, for listeners who are curious and want to learn more, I'm your host Jeff eluded me County Administrator with Hamilton County and with me, as always, is our communications manager Bridget Doherty. Hello, hello, hello, hello. And during this episode, we're going to dive into the world of children's services, a division which is essentially the largest department under the Board of County Commissioners here in Hamilton County, the Hamilton County job and Family Services Department. This is a session I've wanted to do for quite some time, we've been much delayed in doing it, Bridget, but we've finally gotten to it. These employees of job and family services, all the department, the employees of JFS, and specifically, our children's services, employees, these are people that get up every single day, they come to work every single day, and they do it to keep the children of this community in Hamilton County safe. And it's it's humbling to work with these folks the passion they have for public service, the passion they have for children in this community is just incredible. And and I can't thank them enough for doing it. And not the least of which is the two guests that we have. With us today. We have director Michael Patten and deputy director Alex paths fall, who are here with us today in the month of April, which is child abuse prevention month. So we dedicate this month, every year to bringing awareness to the issue of child abuse and recognizing the people who dedicate themselves to protecting children. So Michael, Alex, welcome to the show.

Michael Patton:

Thank you for having us. Thank you, we're gonna get this schedule. So I'm really happy to be here to talk about what we do and Child Abuse Prevention Month is it's timely. So it's April, and it's a good opportunity to share what we do and how we serve the public.

Jeff Aluotto:

And happy to have you here. So Michael, I can't believe that this is actually it's not actually your first podcast you showed up to our holiday episode late and got your picture taken with headphones on and made it look like you were part of the podcast. But this is technically your first podcast. So tell us a little bit about yourself. You are the director of the Hamilton County Department of job and Family Services biggest county department there is tell us a little bit about yourself as the person leading this

Unknown:

shooter. Sure. So again, Jeff, thanks for having me. Thanks for putting us on the agenda, Bridget. So I'm Michael Patten. I'm the director of Hamilton County job and family services. I've been with the agency for 30 years, was appointed director last January. And so it's really been an important opportunity for me as a director to take the lead of an organization that does such good work. I grew up my whole career and JFS serving the families and children of Hamilton County in one capacity or another. And so I think from a child children's services perspective, we've always been one of the leaders in the county with respect to the work that we do, keeping children safe. And I'm really happy that I was able to take over a team that had been established and had been working with families for over the years doing great work keeping families safe. And so again, happy to be here happy to talk a little bit more about what we're doing in child welfare specifically. But yeah, that's that's a little bit more about me. I'm originally from Dayton, Ohio, got married and have two children were empty nesters been empty nesters for about a year. So we're getting adjusted to that my wife and I were having a lot of fun sort of relearning one another and getting to know one another, but also just keeping up with our kids and trying to make sure that we're staying connected with them and where they're going and their aspirations and that kind of thing.

Bridget Doherty:

I like that Michael actually has a family of public servants. Yeah. Your wife's also in public service. Yeah,

Michael Patton:

she is. So my wife, Bridget Patton has been working for the city of Cincinnati for the last 10 years. She was worked under the Cranley administration. So she worked under previous mayor, Mayor John Cranley. And now she is working in City Hall and she is working with the City Council member mica Owens as her director of engagement and so we have a lot of fun and having conversations about city and county politics and service. And so we've been we've been working in the Social Service field for almost all of our marriage, and I've been married for 27 years. So yeah,

Bridget Doherty:

that's fun. I had to give a shout out to another Bridgette. So Alex moving over to you give us an idea of of what got you into social service and give us a little bit of your background.

Alex Patsfall:

Okay, so I actually wasn't really social work and social service wasn't something that was in my kind of purview. Originally, I got my undergrad in political science at Ohio State. And after I graduated, I got a job at Hamilton County job and family services, doing eligibility for daycare vouchers in 2005. And I did that for about two years, and then got a job in children's services. And so I kind of fell into social work by happenstance, and absolutely fell in love with it. I fell in love with the work. And I ended up going back to school and getting my master's in social work. And I have been with the agency now for 18 years, and I've had the opportunity to serve families in all of the areas of Children's Services at this point in my career. And so I have been just very fortunate to be able to work with the families in Hamilton County and ensure safety for those families. And it's just really been a very, very rewarding career that I happen to fall into and fall in love with.

Jeff Aluotto:

That's awesome in you. I think with a lot of folks in JFS, you see that they do spend their careers there, that the passion for the work and the nature of what you all do is something that you can't just get out of your blood really easily. So thanks to both of you for your career leadership, and and moving through the organization, you guys have to take on different roles, different responsibilities to help the organization at all of its levels. So Michael, as we start talking about children's services, a little bit more detail, can you give us some statistics, or just some higher level information to help us in the public who's listening, get their hands around the extent of the work that is done through JFS and Children's Services?

Unknown:

Yeah, sure, Jeff. And I really like to have these conversations because not only in child welfare, but across the board think I really enjoy talking with the public and making the public aware of just how much how many families we serve in Hamblen County, and Children's Services is no different. So for example, last year, JFS served more than 24,000 children and families, more than 51,000 calls were made to our 241 Kids hotline, and more than 6000 cases were open for assessment and investigation. In addition to that, more than 1800 children and youth currently live in foster care, and other placements within Hamilton County. So that gives you some idea of the scope of what what we do in the number of families that we serve, either through our direct contact when folks call because they have a concern about the safety of a child. And then we take that call, make an assessment, make a determination about the nature of the call. And then, if appropriate, we will go out and do an assessment make a determination about whether or not we move forward with substantiating abuse or neglect for that for that particular job.

Jeff Aluotto:

And just Just a quick follow up on that, Michael, just the number 24,000 children and families. So this is a county of 830,000 or so, individuals. So when you think about that number 24,000 Children and Families is huge. I think there's a tendency for people to think and when you think about views, dependent or neglected children to think, oh, that's happening somewhere else. That's not happening. In my community. It's not happening near me. It's not happening with me or my neighbor. But odds are, it probably is have someone that you know, if you're listening to this podcast, is a child or a family that is in some way connected with the services offered by job and family service. Absolutely.

Unknown:

And so going back to what I mentioned before, in terms of the scope of who we connect with all of our programming at the county, most times people find to be are taken aback, you know, by the number of families in Hamilton County that are connected to our organization in some way. So we provide a safety net for families. We keep children safe. We provide financial support for families in the community. We provide childcare support. We also work in the workforce development space. And so we our services run the gamut and so we're really proud of that.

Bridget Doherty:

So Alex, we talked about earlier that it's you know, ciao On Abuse Prevention Month, and you know, what are some of the factors that kind of contribute to child abuse and neglect?

Unknown:

Often these factors are some of the things that we all see in all of our families every day there are underlying mental health, substance abuse issues, access to resources, lack of support systems and or resources within their own communities. So those are some of the underlying factors that can contribute to child maltreatment. But also, when you're looking for signs, you usually see a marked difference in how a child or adult is behaving or acting than you are used to seeing. Child abuse, obviously, when it is physical is sometimes you can see, right you they have bruises, they have injuries, etc. But there are some insidious family conditions, sex abuse, etc, that you're not going to be able to see. And so you really want to look for changes within that family within that child, if a child suddenly becomes not visible in the community, that should be a concern if they're pulled out of school, daycare, etc. So some of those are some of the things we look at when we are determining if we are going to be involved or have an intervention with a family.

Bridget Doherty:

So with with the signs of abuse, and neglect, not always being being visible, and just trying to understand, you know, the changes that you see, what what do you tell neighbors, friends, people that are seeing this what's what's their first course of action?

Unknown:

Well, really, it depends on their relationship with the family, right. And so if they have a relationship with a family, we would like to see our community step up and support those families and help them and help them access resources and help them to get to a place where we can ensure child safety, right, we really want to go back to a community of support around these families. And this is not just a child welfare issue. But really, this is a community issue that we all have a responsibility in ensuring safety for these children. So that would be my thought about first steps. Obviously, if you don't have a good relationship with the family, or you don't know, but you have significant concern, you can make a call to two for one kids and report that information.

Bridget Doherty:

Oh, Michael, I kind of feel like this goes along with one of the campaigns that you guys kicked off that people might have seen a hashtag one small thing. Can you talk about the meaning behind that?

Unknown:

Yeah. So this, this is a really good segue into piggybacking on what Alex talked about in terms of this being a community issue. And so I think there are times when people feel like getting involved with the child welfare system might be daunting, it might be something that they're not prepared to do fully, because of the level of involvement and responsibility, quite frankly, and time that goes into making that kind of commitment. And so what we want to do is to really bridge that gap and let people know through our social media campaign this month, that you can do one small thing, there are things that you can do in the in the community, to volunteer to mentor, to be a coach to be someone in the community that actively involves themselves with activities that your families and youth, we know, can take advantage of and help to create a safe space for our kids and our and our families to thrive. And so our goal with the with the hashtag, one small thing is to really have people think about how their actions on a day to day basis, even if they're small actions can really contribute to a more safe environment for our children and our families.

Jeff Aluotto:

And Michael, on on that note, so we know we always need more foster parents. Talk about some of the things that might encourage people to foster in this community.

Unknown:

Yeah, so there are a couple of things. One really emanated from the board this year, which I thought was a really great idea that kind of supports children that we currently have in care. It's called beyond your imagination. And so we're really grateful that we are we have a supportive community, a supportive tax base that allows us to take advantage of opportunities for youth that we have in care that are between the ages of 14 and 18 years old who can really leverage our funding to Get access to programs and services and activities that they may not otherwise have an opportunity to take advantage of. So concerts, plays, enrichment, activities, camps, things of that nature, we are in a position now to try to support all of our foster care providers or networks, and actively reaching out to them reaching out to families and children who are supporting that in really giving these opportunities to families to take advantage of those kinds of services.

Jeff Aluotto:

And it's maybe a question, this may be a question for both of you. But are there specific? Are there certain kinds of foster parents that you need most?

Unknown:

Yes, so we obviously are struggling to find sufficient amount of homes to place our children and we do. So we have been very creative. And we have implemented incentives for to incentivize foster parents to take our older youth, our teenage children are often very hard to place. And so we are offering some additional incentives for foster parents, we also really, really try our hardest to keep sibling sets together, especially when you have large sibling sets. And so we really need foster parents that are willing to take those older youth or take our more medically fragile youth, or our sibling sets, small or large. Those are the kinds of different populations that we really struggle to place in place together. And in a place where we can have them safe and together and reunified with their families.

Bridget Doherty:

What can What do you say to parents or to potential families that aren't really ready to foster just yet? What can they do to get involved? There's

Unknown:

a lot of different things you can do to get involved. Obviously, you can volunteer to be a mentor, we have different programs that we have had contracted with our youth to help them get through higher education or to mentor them through those capacities.

Bridget Doherty:

On the net, let's talk about recruiting right now on the children's services workers. Michael, what type of incentives are there out there?

Unknown:

Well, you know, this is something that the state is recognized in this is not a local issue, specifically. But this is really a nationwide issue of caseworker shortages in the child welfare area. And so we have been fortunate to receive some funding from the state of Ohio, a retention funding that we have access to. And so we are offering now up to$3,000 for new hires to come on board. And really, you know, this is a this is a calling and Jeff mentioned that before. So a lot of what we try to talk about is the fact that this, this work, and my experience in Alex mentioned this before, is really a calling but at the same time we understand that the economy is is plays a part in people wanting to come and work and do this work. So we offer a $3,000 incentive for new hires to come on board. We also have the county has tuition reimbursement, which we're really proud of that that was reinstituted recently, we offer paid parking for staff that work a job and Family Services, we are downtown location. And we understood over the years that that could certainly be a barrier for folks who are interested in doing this work. The public services loan forgiveness program, a federal program that the federal government has been pushing and relaxing some of the requirements to have your student loans forgiven at the federal level is still ongoing. And so we have some examples of staff that work EJ Fs right now that have had substantial loans forgiven, you know, in the in the 10s of 1000s of dollars. And so I think that's also an incentive that I'd like to point out. And then finally, we for the last since COVID, we have been able to offer a hybrid work schedule for our child welfare staff. And so I think it's makes it much more flexible when they need to be in the community. They are making visits, they're seeing children, they can have a home base and make those make that travel arrangement a little bit more flexible without having to come downtown and to a brick and mortar location on a regular basis. And so I think the the types of applicants that we're seeing are demanding that we have some work life balance and so we're trying to be responsive to the needs of of the new generation of folks that we see that we want to make sure that we're as appealing as possible to those those folks.

Jeff Aluotto:

And Michael, speaking of workforce, so this job, like many other jobs with maybe as much, if not more than in other jobs, is incredibly rewarding, but also very challenging. Right. So what do you what advice do you have for new children's services workers who may be entering the profession in the field?

Unknown:

Well, I will start and I'm going to kick it over to Alex because she has been working in the field directly, but I'm from my experience, at job and family services. And I alluded to this before, when I have an opportunity to talk to new hires and orientation, I talk about the impact that the work that we do has on families in our communities. And I think the reward comes from knowing that even on your bad days, or on days, where it might be a little bit difficult in terms of what you're dealing with. Every step that we take to reunify family, or to keep a child safe or to create a permanent, loving household for a family is something that is is significant in the life of a family. And I think a lot of the things that that are that bring people to our job. And quite frankly, the workforce that we have there, whether it's in child welfare, or in child support, is that there's a commitment to providing important service to the community that gets people from where they are to where they want to be in some capacity. So the reward is there at JFS. In all of the departments, no matter what you do from the mailroom to being the director, every day you make decisions that I think improve the lives of families. And I think for me, the first thing I would tell any children's service worker who's newly in the field is to give yourself grace. This is a very, very complicated system to learn. And it interfaces with all different systems within the county, we interface with the courts with juvenile court with the prosecutor's office. And so I think as adults, we really want to feel competent in our roles. And and in children's service worker role, you really can't actually achieve a level of competence to understand all of those systems and all that work until about two years into the role. And so what we see is we have a turnover around 18 months. And so I always encourage workers who kind of are hitting that wall or feeling that burnout or not feeling like they're the most competent to seek out other opportunities. The great thing about children's services in about JFS. And I've taken the opportunity through my own career is you can move throughout different areas of children's services, and you can learn new things. And you can develop different empathy for your peers that are doing different work within the same department. And so I always really just encourage children, service workers to be realistic about their roles and what it's going to take and how to get there.

Bridget Doherty:

So I'm so glad you said the word empathy. In I'm wondering, like, what are the characteristics are you kind of looking for in these children's services workers?

Unknown:

So the main thing I think, for we we want lifetime learners, right, the child welfare field is ever evolving. And we really want people that are continuing to learn and develop and grow. But there are several characteristics, I think that are really important, are important. You really, really have to know how to engage families and talk to people, right and talk to all different kinds of people and talk about difficult things in a way that people you can show empathy and compassion and partner with families to make their kids feel safe, as opposed to coming at it as kind of an authoritative level is really partnering. So that engagement piece with children's service and workers is extremely important, as well as organization, obviously, casework, there's still a lot of paperwork. And so you really do have to be organized. But luckily, we are a very innovative County we have lots of new technology that we're using to help caseworkers to complete those tasks we have. They have surfaces they can take out in the field and type while they're in visits. We have a dictation software now where they can dictate their notes through that service and get their notes emailed written to them. And so we've been very fortunate in Hamilton County to be kind of on the front end of technology for these caseworkers so they can have the best chance at success to work with their families.

Jeff Aluotto:

And so, kind of getting it to the wrap up point here. We've got a couple of minutes left and want to end on a on a fun note here. So every year this is for both Alex and Michael here ever A year, you guys hold a special event called the celebration of dreams. I've been to that event several times, it is absolutely fantastic and is just one of the most incredible events, I think that we do here at the county. So for our listeners who may not know, tell us a little bit about the celebration of dreams and what it is and what makes it so special.

Unknown:

Sure. So this is, interestingly enough, as the director, I was able to attend one of the Celebrate celebration of dreams event last year at the Hall of Mirrors for the first time, which was really, really incredible opportunity. But it gives us an opportunity to really acknowledge and highlight our, our children that have been with us that have graduated from school, and to give them an opportunity to really have the focus be on them in what they've been able to overcome in the child welfare system. And so many of them participate in their high school graduation, some do not. But this really gives the organization and the families and the foster parents and those that have been working with the family, throughout their journey in child welfare to come together. And really honoring knowledge, the accomplishment of the children of graduating from high school and the focus and the energy. And the time is really dedicated to them on that night. And so we really feel great that we are able to do that annually around the graduation of our kids in care. And last year was just a really incredible experience for us to witness the children and to really see where they want to go what their interests are, and have them share with their peers that have been in in in foster care with them and their families, their foster families and caseworkers and permanency staff really just highlight the work that they've done along the way and congratulate them for a job well done.

Bridget Doherty:

It really is a fantastic event. And it's so interesting, you know, when you see the graduate surrounded by all those people that have helped them get to that point, and it really is this group effort and celebration is the neatest and they really they get some, you know, the communications team that you have a JFS does a great job packaging the whole night to really make it you know, a celebration of the kids and in really focus on almost like an a paparazzi level of, of taking their pictures and making this the biggest deal ever. So it's it's fantastic.

Jeff Aluotto:

The keynote speakers that you guys have been able to get for this have just been fascinating you from country music stars, to rap music stars to other people, big names in the community, I bring that not just to say, hey, it's the names. But the vast majority of these people again, going back to the very first thing we talked about about the number of individuals who are touched by the services you guys do, most of the keynote speakers, and probably all of them are folks who have been through this, maybe not here in Hamilton County, but had been through the child welfare system. And it's just great to give the kids on that night, the exposure to other folks who have been through the system have been successful and moved on with their life and found a way to, to move through challenges that they face. So just a fantastic, fantastic event. So as we're finalizing here, someone is listening to this podcast, and they want to know, how do I take the next step? How do I get involved in exploring foster care? How do we get involved with some of the other events or services that Jeff has has to offer? What's the best thing for them to do

Unknown:

the best option for the public who wants to know more, learn more, it's got hc kids.org, h c kids.org. All of the information we have on our child welfare system, how to get involved, how to become connected to us, no matter what level you are now, whether you're thinking about it, or whether you're ready to commit, go to eight, see kids.org. There's all sorts of information there that describe what it means to be a foster parent in Hamilton County. And so I would certainly ask if you're interested to go there for more information.

Jeff Aluotto:

Excellent. Well, Alex, Michael, thank you so much for joining us today. And once again, thank you for all that you guys do every single day on behalf of Hamilton County and to help keep kids here in Hamilton County safe. And for all that you do just in the organization of job and Family Services. I cannot tell you how much your dedication and services but humbling and on behalf of every resident of Hamilton County, thank you for all you do for this community. Thanks for having Thank you for having us. And so with that, Bridget on on behalf of my co host Bridget and on behalf of my cell phone that has continued to ring and Buzz throughout this entire podcast I apologize for that. Thanks to you for Listening to Episode One, season three of heart and hustle in Hamilton County. Subscribe to us on Apple podcast, Spotify and other providers. You can find this podcast on our website at Hamilton County ohio.gov on the county administrator's webpage. So thanks to all of you for listening and we will see you next time. As I believe Bridgette, we're going to be out in the field, electrocuting fish.

Bridget Doherty:

Okay, so we're going to, we've been trying to wait for spring to come by and I didn't understand when you said we're going to electrocute fish, what that meant. And so I think I kind of have an idea.

Jeff Aluotto:

Do you think this was like a hobby or like, well,

Bridget Doherty:

I you know, I've been with the county for a little while, and I had never heard of any county department doing that.

Jeff Aluotto:

So we're going to next at our next session or next podcast, we're going to take people inside the world of the Soil and Water Conservation District, and what electrocuting fish means in the context of sampling biodiversity in our local waterways. And we're not hurting fish. We are literally just sampling the types of fish that are out there to test for stream health. For those folks who might be listening and think we're up to nefarious purposes here.

Bridget Doherty:

It's an actual shock, though, right? It's a little shock.

Jeff Aluotto:

You have never felt in myself, but I understand it's not enough to actually do any permanent harm. But we are going to do it. And we're going to be with our Soil and Water Conservation District professionals who are going to walk us through it and we're gonna have a great time doing it and we're going to talk about how they help protect the environment. here locally in Hamilton County.

Bridget Doherty:

Out in the wild in the elements. Exactly. All right. And I do I do the outro music again. I've kind of messed that up. Yeah, it's been a while. So alright, let's take us out.

Jeff Aluotto:

Go for it.