By Ed Runyan
A week after damaging details of a police investigation at the agency were released, the head of Trumbull County Children Services stood with most of his 150 employees and said they “work every day with fire in their belly” to help kids.
Tim Schaffner, executive director, said he took the unusual step of giving the 15-minute “State of The Agency” news conference with the employees to make the public understand more about the dedication of people at the agency.
“I’ve asked these poor people to stand with me today because this is children services, this is your neighbors and your friends, and they bring their kids to your school and they go to your churches and they come here every day and they keep kids safe,” said Schaffner, who became director April 17, 2012.
A week ago, The Vindicator reported on the results of an investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation that showed deceit by a supervisor regarding documentation involving a child who was raped by her biological parents during a supervised visit.
The investigator also questioned several employees regarding the reasons why the victim’s father, who was found guilty of a sex offense as a 14-year-old, was allowed in the room unsupervised with the child.
No charges against employees resulted from the investigation, but the father and mother were both convicted of rape and sent to prison.
Schaffner said an investigation by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services found no fault with the agency for the supervision it gave to the April 2011 visit that resulted in the rapes.
But the agency no longer allows a parent with a history of sexual abuse to have alone time with a child during a visitation, Schaffner said. Those visits involve staff watching the entire visitation.
Schaffner said he’s still a relative newcomer to child-protective services, despite his 38 years in the counseling and mental-health field. He said he wants others to know some of the “who knew?” things he’s learned over a year.
For example, in 80 percent of child-abuse cases, the child remains in his or her own home.
“We’re not the agency that comes to your house to take your kids,” he said. “We’re the agency that comes and helps you take care of your kids when they’re going through rough times.”
Another misconception is that a caseworker handles a child-abuse case alone from start to finish, Schaffner said.
“We have incredible specialities in our investigative team, our assessment team, those folks that work with kids in out-of-home placement, ongoing work with our foster parents,” he said.
“I was shocked the first time I went to a meeting about adoption of kids, and there were 12 people in the room, and they all knew the kid, they all had an opinion, and they all had a relationship with the child and the adoptive parents,” he said.
But the agency needs to do a better job of explaining what it does, Schaffner said.
“We need to enhance the community’s understanding of what we do and why. We’ve got to help you understand why we open a case sometimes, why we don’t open a case sometimes.
“When a school makes a referral, what exactly are we going to do next? When a neighbor makes a referral, what are we going to do next? How does this work?”
To that end, the agency intends to add more information to its website in the coming days at www.trumbullcsb.com, Schaffner said.
Another supervisor at the agency, Marilyn Pape, manager of out-of-home care and a 27-year employee, said she wishes the public could see the dedication of children-services workers.
“I wish you could see what I see every day,” Pape said. “I wish you could see how staff come to work every day knowing that when they are here, they will see things that are incomprehensible to most people.
“I wish you could see how hard they fight to keep families together, to reunify children with loving families, to create permanency for children.”
Schaffner said he hopes also to educate the public regarding the amount of damage child abuse does in our society.
“Fifty-two percent or more or the public have had experience with sexual or emotional abuse, domestic violence, living with mental illness or substance abuse, and it has long-term effects on people,” he said.