What is Social Services?
Social Services is a division of Geauga County Job and Family Services. Social Services is the agency in Geauga County that is mandated by law to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect against children. We are also responsible for investigating allegations of abuse and neglect and exploitation of the elderly age sixty and older. If our investigation indicates abuse and/or neglect, the agency then offers services to protect the alleged victim from further harm. While our mandate is protection, we also have the goal of stabilizing families and providing permanence for children.
We believe children should be in the least restrictive family setting possible. Therefore, whenever possible we provide services to families while the children remain in their own home. If a child cannot stay at home safely, the best alternative is for the child to live with an appropriate relative. If an appropriate relative is not available, we will place the child into foster care while we offer services to the birth family.
What services does Social Services offer?
We facilitate an array of services aimed at keeping the family together, or reunifying them if the child has been removed from the home. These services, which are available to children and their parents, include substance abuse assessment and treatment, psychological evaluations, family counseling, and parenting classes to name a few. We also develop a safety plan for each family in high risk crisis, which is an agreement between the agency and the family on what must be done to make the home immediately safe for the child.
What happens to a child who comes into the agency's care?
Our foremost concern, even above preserving families, is child safety. No child is left in his or her home if we believe they will be further harmed. If a child is removed from their home, we first look to an appropriate relative to provide care. If an appropriate relative is not available, the child will enter foster care or alternative placement.
Can Social Services remove a child from his or her home?
No. Social Services does not have the power of prosecution. Adjudication is a function of law enforcement, the prosecuting attorney and the courts. Social Services does however remove children from their homes only after a court order has been approved by the Judge. The role of Social Services is limited to protecting children and the elderly and stabilizing families.
When children are removed from their homes, do they ever go back?
Yes, whenever possible. We value families, and believe the best place for a child is in a safe, loving home with the birth family. We provide services to families, directly and indirectly, aimed at reunifying children with their parents.
What happens if Social Services determines a child can never live safely with her or his birth parents again?
In that case, Social Services will do one of the following:
1) Ask that the court award legal custody to a relative, who then becomes the child's primary care giver.
2) Place the child in foster care until he or she becomes legal age.
3) Petition the court for permanent custody of the child, and upon receiving custody place the child into an adoptive home.
Who can become a foster or adoptive parent?
Anyone who is at least age 21, complies and passes a background check, meets certain criteria and can provide a safe, loving home is welcome! Single or married, with children or without, male or female, it really doesn't matter. Are foster parents and adoptive parents paid? Not exactly, but there is financial support. All foster parents receive a base daily stipend (per diem) to care for children placed in their homes. Depending on the needs of the child (emotional, behavior or medical) the per diem may be higher than the base rate per diem. Once a child is adopted, Geauga County Job and Family Services and the federal government provide a monthly subsidy until the child reaches legal age.
How big is Social Services?
Social Services has an FTE (full-time equivalent) staff count of 24 employees. It is a combination of 5 management staff, 16 social workers, 3 social worker aides, and 1 unit support person. Our ability to provide quality services to our clients would not be possible without our well-trained capable staff. All staff receive 90 hours of core training during their first year of service, and a minimum of 36 additional hours of training annually.
If you have a concern regarding the agency's case management of a case, please address your issue through the chain of command, beginning with the caseworker of record. Use the following order when contacting agency staff:
1. Caseworker of Record
2. Casework Supervisor
3. Director of Social Services
4. Executive Director of Geauga County Job and Family Services
We certainly want to resolve any problems or issues that you may have related to the Social Service division in a non-adversarial manner. All concerns will be addressed.
What should I do if I think a child has been abused or neglected?
Call the local child protective agency or department of human services. There are 88 counties in Ohio and each county has an agency responsible for child and adult protection. If you have concerns about a family residing in Geauga County, call Social Services at 440-285-9141 during business hours and you will be connected to a specialist in the Social Service intake department. After hours and on weekends, call the Geauga County COPE line at 440-285-5665. You will be connected to a specialist in our Social Service department.
What if the person causing harm or neglect is someone I know? Can I call anonymously?
We understand that you may be reluctant to tell us who you are, or even hesitant about calling at all. Reporting child abuse or elder abuse is not pleasant, especially when it involves a family member, neighbor or friend. However, the worst thing you can do is nothing. Before you make the decision to call, remember that the abuse or neglect that the victim is experiencing will likely continue if you fail to act. Yes, you can report anonymously, but we prefer that you give us your name so the investigating worker can contact you for more information. Your identity will be kept confidential; we will not give your name to the person allegedly harming the child, nor to the child's family.
What information do I need when I make a report (referral)?
The more information you can provide, the better we will be able to assess the level of risk to the child. At a minimum, we need the following information:
- The child's name
- How to locate the child
- Description of the alleged abuse or neglect
In order to better assess the situation, you will also be asked to provide, if possible, the following:
- Name, address and telephone number of the child, yourself, child's caretaker and child's guardian (if different from the caretaker)
- The child's approximate age and what is known of her/his behavior and level of functioning
- When and where the alleged abuse or neglect occurred, what happened,
- how serious it is, and how long it has been going on
- When, where, and how the child is at risk of abuse or neglect?
- Are you aware of any prior incidents of abuse/neglect experienced by the alleged victim?
- The circumstances surrounding the abuse and neglect or any other information which might be helpful to understand why it happened
- What do you know about the behavior and parenting abilities of the person(s) caring for the child?
- What has been done to reduce the risk to the child?
- What actions have been taken? (Has the abuse been documented with photographs?)
- Has the alleged victim received medical attention?
- Have the police or sheriff been notified?
- Who allegedly committed the abuse/neglect and where can we find this person?
- Does this person still have access to the alleged victim?
- The names and approximate ages of other children living in the home, and their relationship to the alleged victim.
- Have any other children in the home been victims of abuse and/or neglect, and if so, who was the perpetrator?
- The names and whereabouts of anyone else with knowledge of the abuse and neglect.
What information am I entitled to?
Just as you have confidentiality rights as a reporter of child or elder abuse/neglect, the family of the alleged child victim has an expectation of privacy as well. Therefore, in accordance with the law we do not provide any information about our investigations.
However, if you are a mandated reporter, you are by law entitled to certain information:
Disposition of your report B whether or not Social Services will initiate an investigation
Notification of when the investigation is complete
Whether or not Social Services will continue its involvement with the family after the investigation has been concluded
Whether or not Social Services is otherwise involved with the child who is the subject of the referral
The general status of the health and safety of the child who is the subject of the referral
Whether or not the report has resulted in the filing of a complaint in juvenile court or of criminal charges in another court
Identification of a designated contact person at Social Services
Any information that would assist in service provision to the child
Does the law require me to report child abuse and neglect?
Although Ohio law encourages everyone to report alleged abuse and neglect, in most cases it is an option left for personal and moral decision. The exception is those professions that have an inherent responsibility to report. The ethical commitment to families and children that these professionals have accepted through virtue of their positions is recognized under Ohio law, and thus they are mandated to report alleged child abuse and neglect.
The Ohio Revised Code Section 2151.421clearly removes the option of choice, and requires immediate reporting of known or suspected alleged abuse and neglect for the following professionals:
- physician, including a hospital intern or resident
- registered nurse
- visiting nurse
- other health care professional
- licensed psychologist
- licensed school psychologist
- speech pathologist or audiologist
- administrator or employee of a child day-care center
- administrator or employee of a certified child care or private children services agency or other public
- school teacher
- school employee
- school authority
- social worker
- licensed professional counselor
- person rendering spiritual treatment through prayer in accordance with the tenets of a well-recognized religion
How do I know that Social Services is investigating my report?
We take every report seriously. If there is enough information available to suggest an alleged victim is at risk of abuse or neglect, we will most certainly investigate your report.
However, because we must keep case information confidential, and because we try our best to keep children in their homes, there may be occasions when those who report abuse and neglect do not see an immediate change in the situation. Because the child or elder is not removed from their home or the referent does not hear back from Social Services, some may mistakenly conclude that we are not taking action. But in fact, we are taking action. If we determine that children are at risk of abuse and/or neglect, we are already working to connect the family with community services that will help them toward stability.
What if my concerns about abuse or neglect are later found to be unsubstantiated? Can I be sued or charged?
Although no statute can forbid the filing of civil or criminal charges, state law protects the reporter of alleged child abuse or neglect from any decision or award which might be sought through the filing of a claim, provided that the reporter acted in good faith and did not knowingly make a false claim.
What is considered to be Child Abuse or Neglect?
To report child abuse and neglect in Geauga County, call 440-285-9141, or 440-285-5665 after-hours or on weekends.
Some cases of child abuse and neglect are easily recognizable: an infant left alone in a hot car, a three-year-old with multiple facial bruises, a child who repeatedly is locked out of the house for long periods of time. However, these cases represent only a fraction of the many children who are in need of professional help. What about the more subtle forms of abuse and neglect, such as verbal abuse, poor supervision, and overly strict discipline? The key to recognizing the various forms of child maltreatment is a basic understanding of the meaning of the term child abuse and neglect. There are numerous factors involved in defining child abuse and neglect:
Cultural and ethnic backgrounds
Attitudes concerning parenting
Professional training and affiliation
All of these contribute to a definition. In seeking commonly acceptable meanings, it is helpful to begin by distinguishing between abuse and neglect.
Abuse Abuse represents an action against a child. It is an act of commission. Generally, abuse is categorized as follows:
Physical Abuse: The non-accidental injury of a child.
Sexual Abuse: Any act of a sexual nature upon or with a child. The act may be for the sexual gratification of the perpetrator or a third party. This would, therefore, include not only anyone who actively participated in the sexual activity, but anyone who allowed or encouraged it.
Emotional Abuse: Chronic attitude or acts that interfere with the psychological and social development of a child. Each of us is guilty of having unkindly snubbed a child or having criticized him too harshly, but emotional abuse is consistent and is chronic behavior. It usually is related to a constellation of interactions and is cumulative.
Three elements usually are involved in creating the environment for an incident of abuse:
1. The alleged victim
2. The alleged perpetrator
3. The CRISIS
A crisis generally will be the precipitating factor that sets the abuser in motion. The crisis may come in any form or level of apparent severity; for example, the crisis may be the loss of a job, divorce, illness, death in the family, a child's wet pants, consistent crying, a broken dish. What is significant is not what the crisis is, but what it creates B a situation beyond the resulting frustration and anxiety is abuse.
Not all abuse is the result of frustration or stress. Abuse may occur for a wide variety of reasons, including inappropriate concepts of discipline, association of the child with negative events, and psychological disorder. Most abuse, however, does not occur as a result of willful desire to hurt a child.
Neglect Neglect is failure to act on behalf of a child. It is an act of omission. Neglect may be thought of as child-rearing practices that are essentially inadequate or dangerous. It may not produce visible signs and it usually occurs over a period of time. Neglect generally is physical or emotional in nature.
Some common examples of physical neglect are a failure to meet the requirements basic to a child's physical development, such as supervision, housing, clothing, medical attention, nutrition and support. Some agencies will further break this category into more specific acts of omission, such as medical neglect, lack of proper supervision, or educational neglect.
Some common examples of emotional neglect are a failure to provide the support or affection necessary to a child's psychological and social development. Failure on the part of the parent to provide the praise, nurturance, love, or security essential to the child'sdevelopment of a sound and healthy personality may constitute emotional neglect. The effects of extreme deprivation can be seen in the medical syndrome non-organic failure to thrive. Failure to thrive is a condition in which children show a marked retardation or cessation of growth. On a normal growth chart, failure-to-thrive children usually fall below the 3rd percentile.
(Courtesy of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services)