By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Wood County is on its way to setting a grim record for 2017, as the numbers of child abuse and neglect cases continue to grow.
That makes passage of the 1.3-mill renewal levy for Human Services even more critical, according to those trying to meet the needs.
“Without it we would have to reduce staff which would be catastrophic because we are seeing record numbers,” said Dave Wigent, director of the Wood County Department of Job and Family Services.
Since 1987, the Children’s Services and Adult Protective Services portions of the agency have relied on the 1.3 mills to support their work. The 10-year levy generates $3.7 million a year, and costs the owner of a $100,000 home about $36 a year.
The funding provides for child abuse and neglect investigations and, if needed, placement of children in foster homes or other settings. The levy also supports elder services, such as home health aides, homemaker services and investigations of elder abuse and neglect.
Since the levy was last passed 10 years ago, Wood County has seen six deaths of children under 3 years old due to abuse. Five suffered from head trauma, and one was smothered.
The needs of the protective services at both ends of the age spectrum continue to increase. Following are the statistics for 2016:
- 894 child abuse investigations.
- 260 elder abuse investigations.
- 212 of the child abuse investigations involved drugs.
- 142 of the investigations were child sexual abuse investigations.
- 59 children were placed in substitute care such as foster care or group homes.
And the numbers look even worse for 2017. The reasons may be two-fold, according to Sandi Carsey, administrator of Children’s Services. In recent years, the opiate crisis has led to more cases, and there has been a real push for the public to report abuse and neglect concerns.
“Last year in September, we had 35 children in foster care. This year we have 50,” Carsey said, adding that her office is currently trying to recruit more foster families. Meanwhile, the number of elder abuse and neglect cases is expected to pass 300 this year, she added.
“You don’t control your workflow,” Wigent said. “Whatever comes at you, you have to deal with.”
While Wood County is seeing record child and elder abuse and neglect, it continues to get little funding from the state, Carsey and Wigent explained. Ohio is 50th in the country for state funding to child abuse programs.
“Even if they doubled it, we would be 50th,” Carsey said.
Unlike many counties in Ohio, Wood County Job and Family Services only collects the levy taxes when necessary, Wigent said. If the agency does not need the funding for a particular year, it is not collected.
“We’re the only JFS in the state that has reduced or suspended collection six times,” during the last 30 years, he said. “We only take the money we need.”
And the agency is committed to working with the same millage and not asking voters for more, Wigent said.
“We just really need to continue what we’ve been doing, especially in the face of the record numbers we’ve been seeing,” he said.