Just more than 3,000 families were provided services last year, up only slightly from the year before.
By AMY HOUSLEY
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Hearing the words children services often conjures up terrible images, but the reality is a much more optimistic one.
Colleen Valencic and her son Cody, now 12, are living proof.
"I don't have any complaints," Valencic said of her experience with Trumbull County Children Services.
Valencic has dealt with mental disorders such as depression, for which she was not getting the proper care. Contributing to her problems was that she had turned to drugs, alcohol and self-medication.
Her family stepped in and sent Valencic to the hospital for help. Cody was placed in foster care for about a year.
At first, she resented what happened, but now she knows she and her son were both done a favor. She realized that if someone hadn't intervened, she wouldn't be here today.
During the time Cody was in foster care, Valencic worked with a case manager at Valley Counseling, as well as a therapist and a doctor.
"All these people were working together to get me going again," she said. She is still in counseling and taking medication.
Although he is back with his mother, Cody remains in contact with his foster family. "The attachment was good," said Valencic. "He needed that."
Even while Cody was in care, Valencic was encouraged to visit him.
According to Bob Kubiak, the agency's executive director, the approach in each case is family-oriented.
"Families are the best place for children. The focus and mission is to reunite families when we can and when that's a safe decision," he said.
According to its annual report, the agency offered services to 3,053 families in 2001, up slightly from the previous year. Kubiak said the number has "kind of reached a plateau and is not steadily increasing."
Last year, 206 children were in foster care and 23 adoptions were finalized.
The agency's triage department assessed more than 2,000 reports of child abuse, neglect and dependency, which is when a parent can't care for a child for uncontrollable reasons such as illness.
Social workers there respond quickly to reports and are as upfront as possible with families.
Within three to five days, a decision is made about opening the case by considering the situation and history. The workers "try to be intensive," Kubiak said.
A short-term case will involve eight to 12 weeks of intensive work.
An extended-care case may involve a chronically troubled family and sometimes foster care.
Valencic's case was deemed long-term.
About the agency
Children services is a public agency established by law.
Kubiak said the agency faces controversy about its level of involvement. While some people feel children services should intervene more, many think the agency meddles too much in private family affairs.
Agency workers make a conscious effort not to be obtrusive, but to offer help when necessary.
"It's not the old stigma that it's a bad thing," Valencic said of dealing with children services.
Kubiak said the agency tries to keep the same caseworker with a family as much as possible.
Valencic said her caseworker, Renee Bastounis, worked with her each step of the way.
"Renee really went out of her way for my son," said Valencic.
Children services also works with similar organizations to pool resources for families.
"The social service community in Trumbull County is well-coordinated," said Kubiak.
In April, Valencic was presented with a "Rising Up and Moving On Award" from children services, which recognized her courage and initiative.
The speech made by Bastounis at the presentation is hung on the wall at Valencic's home. A photo of Bastounis graces the television.
Valencic was very pleased with the award, saying, "I felt like I wasn't going anywhere until the award."
"I've come a long way," she said, adding that she wouldn't have been able to do it if Cody was unhappy.
Also in therapy
Like his mother, Cody is in therapy, which he goes to every other week. Valencic said she was concerned about underlying issues from their separation.
"I want him to be able to express these feelings," she said. The counseling allows him the opportunity to sit down and talk through the situation.
Cody will be in fifth grade in the fall at Summit Academy. Since transferring, he went from failing to almost straight A's, his mother proudly said.
He is also an orange belt in karate, which he takes classes for at school. His awards are hung on the wall in celebration of his success.
Although they are planning to move soon, Valencic said that she will stay in the area to keep Cody at Summit Academy and that they will both continue in counseling.
Valencic has also gone back to school where she is working toward her General Educational Development certificate and is taking basic computer classes.
She's not sure what she wants to do when she is done there, but is considering some kind of work that involves mental help.
"I've learned there are so many options," Valencic said of her future. "Compared to what they were, things are fantastic."
Valencic said she would encourage other women who are facing personal problems to work with children services.
Last month, she had to go back into the hospital for a readjustment in her medication. "It wasn't for any breakdown," she said.
The dosage of one of her medications was off, making her very high-strung. While she was in the hospital, doctors were able to reintroduce the medication to her system faster and stabilize the dosage.
Through it all, she worked with the doctors and therapists, always wanting to get better.
"If people see that you're trying, they'll help you," she said.
"Everything's been falling into place for us," Valencic said. "There's still a ways to go, but I know I can do it now."