Butler County foster kids: 12 more ‘graduate’ during annual celebration

Credit: Submitted

Credit: Submitted

A dozen foster children in Butler County graduated from high school this year despite a lifetime of challenges and the coronavirus pandemic, which officials celebrated recently in an annual event.

“I just kept thinking to myself everyday, like, ‘You should be proud of yourself, you did this for you and your brother,’” said Trey Walzer, an 18-year-old from Oxford who was removed from his biological parents five years ago. “And I think it took a lot of guts to tell someone what’s going on.”

Abby Sexton, independent living and emancipation coordinator for Children Services, told the Journal-News that when she arrived at the agency in 2002 not a single foster child graduated. She said the kids in their care have demonstrated great resilience during the past 18 months.

“No matter what the world throws at them they just, you know, God love ‘em, they just have this amazing ability to just kind of cope and move through,” Sexton said.

Last year when the pandemic shelved the annual graduation celebration the agency still honored six foster children who earned their degrees. Recently the social workers and their charges celebrated at the OhioMeansJobs offices with the traditional party and gift baskets filled with supplies — including laptops this year — for the graduates as they enter the adult world.

Sexton said there are six young people going to college or other continuing education, like Walzer, who will be starting the construction program at Butler Tech. She said three more students have entered the workforce and another three are still figuring out their futures with the help of their social workers. For the first time, one of their charges was named valedictorian of his graduating class.

“I am so proud of these young people, during such difficult times they continue to thrive,” new JFS Executive Director Julie Gilbert said. “For us to have 12 graduates many of which have plans after they graduated. We had a valedictorian, many of them are going off to college or have some work plan established, I couldn’t be happier.”

During the pandemic Children Services officials were concerned reports of abuse dropped because everyone was lock down. Kids weren’t out in the open so there weren’t community eyes on them to detect and report problem situations. The average number of children in their care last year was 369, so far this year the average 356. Pre-pandemic the average number of children in BCCS custody was 400.

Newly named Children Services Director Shannon Glendon said things are getting back to normal.

“Over the last couple of months have begun to see a shift to more of our pre-pandemic trends in terms of reporting and caseloads,” Glendon said. “We’re going to continue to monitor that particularly as schools go back into session and more in-person learning, and really reaching out to our community and making sure they are aware of our services.”

The agency has some new initiatives in the works, taking advantage of the Family First Prevention Services Act that is coming this fall. The legislation is aimed at creating programs that allow children to remain safely in their homes. The agency already utilizes the Family Preservation Program but will be able to expand on that.

The legislation is also geared toward making sure group home and residential treatment placements are the best possible. They also want to provide services to encourage success once kids and parents are reunited, “that really focus on helping children and families heal, helping them get better from their trauma experiences,” Glendon said.

Walzer and his 15-year-old brother are living with a foster family in Oxford, and he said he hopes to get a good job in construction when he graduates and hopefully someday have a couple kids of his own. He said Children Services made his future possible.

“They were wonderful, if it wasn’t for them coming into my life I would be (in a bad place),” Walzer said. “I’m just thankful they came and helped me and my brother, they had the power to help us and I thank them.”

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