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Ohio Child Protection Agencies Try a New Way of Dealing with Cases of Child Abuse and Neglect

The state of Ohio now has a new tool for dealing with cases of child abuse and neglect.

Crystal Ward Allen directs the Public Childrens Services Association of Ohio. She helps run a new program she says will help Childrens Services keep families together.

We're trying to sit down with that family and say, Clearly this isn't the situation that you want or that we want. What ideas do you have that we can help you bring to your current situation?'

The program is called Alternative Response, and allows case workers to work with families to try resolve problems without removing the children from the home. Franklin County is one of ten Ohio Counties participating in the pilot phase of the program.

Franklin County Children Services Director Eric Fenner says the program is useful in cases where the child is not in immediate danger.

When we come out through alternative response, we're not checking cupboards, looking for sleeping arrangements not having the disposition of abuse or neglect. We're more focused on assessing that family: what are the needs, what are the issues and then we can provide those services.

Alternative Response is the result of a research effort between the Ohio Supreme Court and the Department of Job and Family Services to more clearly define child abuse and neglect. Fenner says it gives Childrens Services more power to make important decisions

We know that all families don't require the same level of intervention, but we've not had the authority through laws and rules to have an alternative response to servicing those families. We have to service all families the same once we decide to take them in. This gives us another path.

There is some cost involved. Additional training is needed for case workers participating the program but Fenner says the program will eventually save Franklin County money.

We believe that in the long run there'll be a real cost savings for both our office and the community. And not just savings in terms of dollars, but also savings in terms of keeping families together.