How Are Child Welfare Workers in Ohio Being Protected?


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COLUMBUS, Ohio — With or without COVID-19, Children Services workers in Ohio still have to ensure the safety of children.

And they're currently balancing protecting children and their own health.

Kristi Burre, director of Children Services Transformation with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, says responding to reports of child maltreatment already is stressful, traumatic work.

"Our kids and families have been hit hard by the opioid epidemic over the last several years," she states. "If anything, this is adding a whole other layer to that. And they need all of the support that they can get."

The department issued guidance early on in the coronavirus pandemic to help county agencies prioritize the most essential duties.

Tina Pocock, assistant director, of Clermont County Job and Family Services, explains her agency has started using video calls for some visits.

"We're using as much technology as we can, which has not been the norm," she relates. "So it is a new frontier, but it is limited because not every family has those opportunities and has the technology needed."

Caseworkers are required to use masks and gloves during visits, and are provided hand sanitizer as well.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, many agency offices are staffed on a rotating basis by one person at a time, with others working remotely.

Some case workers are practicing social distancing by meeting with families on their front porch, or checking in on a child through a screen door.

Kristen Fox Berki, executive director of the Lorain County Children Services, says her department is asking families questions over the phone prior to a visit to determine if an in-person meeting or a video call would be most appropriate.

"Is anybody in the home ill?" she explains. "Is there anybody who has been exposed to COVID-19, anybody who tested positive?

"We are encouraging our staff to ask those questions. We don't want to put anybody else at risk. But there is this balance about making sure we're also able to assess risk to children and safety of children."

Susan Walther, director of Warren County Children Services, notes caseworkers try to consider what's best for each circumstance.

"Obviously, a child with truancy issues isn't going to be as big of a heightened concern right now as an infant who has a history of abuse," she explains. "So we're really trying to weigh those safety concerns and those risk factors."

Walther adds that should a case worker fall ill, a co-worker or supervisor will take over the cases and tasks to ensure that no family goes unseen.

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