Butler County Children Services to undergo overhaul

Executive Director has set a 120-day deadline to implement change.

The executive director of Butler County Children Services said Thursday that the agency is not meeting its mission statement and that it is time for change.

Executive Director Jerome Kearns unveiled plans to overhaul the county agency and solicit input from groups of former clients, foster children and families, law enforcement, social service agencies and faith-based organizations to gain perspective on what things they can improve upon

“Our mission statement talks about protecting children and preserving families,” Kearns said. “Are those sometimes two activities that can occur at the same time? If you have a removal of a child, and you seek permanency in some other manner than a family, is that consistent with preserving families?”

Kearns said since he took over both Job and Family Services and Children Services in the fall of 2012, he felt the county had too many children in custody and too many were in placements outside the county. There were 455 children in custody as of a week ago, according to Kearns. The average last year was 430 children in custody daily, which is about 100 more than in 2010 and 2011.

“I have been concerned for some time about the number of kids we have in custody,” he said. “I think we could do a better job of the kids we do bring into custody, keeping them here more locally.”

He said one way to make things better may be to investigate paying or contributing toward day care costs so more family members might be able to accept relatives, rather than taking the foster route.

Kearns told the Butler County commissioners on Thursday that he has set a 120-day deadline to implement change. The first step has already begun with staff meetings focused on finding ways to reduce the number of children in custody. The next step is to reach out to the community.

Children Services has come under fire on a number of occasions over the past decade: BCCS was found faultless in the events that led to 3-year-old Marcus Fiesel’s death in 2006; a Middletown couple who locked their 12-year-old daughter in the basement for a month; and most recently, the fight between Commissioner Cindy Carpenter and Prosecutor Mike Gmoser.

Gmoser threatened Carpenter with possible legal action for meddling in Children Services business when she told Kearns to fire his top managers. As a member of the commission board, she can’t operate individually, Gmoser contended.

Carpenter inserted herself into the agency while trying to help a pregnant woman who had been living under the High Street Bridge. She said the agency is fractured and failed the young woman.

An ombudsman who investigates complaints about Children’s Services, William Morrison, said during a commissioners meeting late last year that the case in question was handled poorly.

“I think the average case in Butler County is still handled poorly,” he said.

However, when Children Services took the formerly homeless mother’s newborn from her care, retired Judge Tom Lipps, who is handling the case, said Children Services was justified in taking the baby.

Kearns said there are two sides to every story and the goal now is to not just react to complaints but implement systemic change at the agency.