STEUBENVILLE - The Jefferson County children services agency is implementing a new response program to help parents in child abuse and neglect cases improve the condition of their homes.
John Rodesh, county Job and Family Services, Children Services Division administrator, said the state is starting the new response program in various counties, modeled after a program started in Minnesota.
The agency wants to become more of a partner in certain child abuse and neglect cases, instead of being an authoritative figure, Rodesh said.
The agency will continue to have a traditional response of determining a victim and perpetrator and doing a fact-finding investigation.
The alternative response will assume some type of neglect happened but will focus on making sure it doesn't happen again, Rodesh said.
Rodesh said 48 Ohio counties have implemented the alternative response program so far, with all 88 counties having it in place by July 2014.
"It is more of sitting beside people and not over them and helping to partner with families to come up with long-term solutions," he said.
Some child neglect cases involve dirty or unsanitary houses, he said. Caseworkers will try to determine why the home is dirty and work with the parents on developing a plan to make the home more liveable, he said.
Rodesh said both the traditional and alternative response plans will focus on the safety of the children. The agency will determine which approach to take based on a case-by-case basis, he said.
"We are taking a system-driven approach and making it more family driven. The parents have a say in how to remedy the problem," he said.
The alternative response will try to eliminate the adversarial relationship that comes from the traditional response, he said.
Caseworkers will spend a lot of time early in the alternative approach process to eliminate the problem in the home. The effort will focus on the first 30 to 60 days, he said.
He said the agency will keep the traditional response in sexual abuse and serious neglect cases and possible criminal investigations.
Rodesh said he sat down with local law enforcement and explained how the alternative response will work.
Making sure the family doesn't have a repeat problem is the main goal of the alternative response.
Rodesh added parents in other counties that have implemented the alternative response plan have stated there was a trust relationship established with children services and the adversarial barrier is broken down.
"There definitely will be challenges. We are giving families the option of which approach will work best," he said.
Rodesh noted there are seven caseworkers in the children services division, with each one having about 20 to 25 ongoing cases. He said the caseload is high but he hopes recidivism will decrease and so will the caseload with the alternative response.
"The alternative response initially will take more time (from the caseworkers), but hopefully it will result in improvements (in the home)," he said. "The hardest part will be getting past the authoritative approach. We need to develop a new mind-set," he said.
The agency will begin implementing the alternative approach in January, and he hopes more than half the cases will use the alternative response.
Rodesh said caseworkers and the agency know the community services that are available.
"Bringing parents into the picture hopefully will result in a two-way street of communication," he said.
The state has a pamphlet explaining the alternative response. In it is states the alternative response focuses on answering questions of what caused the family to experience the issue and how the agency and family to work together to address the concern.