BATAVIA, OH (Sept. 24, 2019) — Tears welled up as adoptive mom and social worker Bobbi Grooms and adoption supervisor Julie Jordan re-watched a video of Jerica Estle-Grooms, 23, testifying before the Ohio House Finance Subcommittee on Health and Human Services on April 10. Jerica also delivered powerful testimony in front of an Ohio Senate subcommittee on behalf of funding for the public child protection system.
She spoke about life in a family with two parents who ended up dying from drug overdoses and her many placements in foster care and a residential center in Adams County. She shared about meeting her adoptive parents, Bobbi and her husband Chris Grooms, through their oldest daughter, Lizzy, when they both worked at a local restaurant. They had adopted Lizzy at a young age.
“As difficult as things were and as closed off as I had become during my teen years, the Grooms family never gave up on me,” Jerica said. “They accepted me as part of their family and helped me, emotionally and financially, throughout my emancipation, through college and continue to help support me emotionally, into adulthood.”
In July 2015, Jerica legally accepted their name as her own: Jerica Estle-Grooms. “Because of their support, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Business from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, in December 2018,” she said. In July, she began work at TQL. (Read her full Senate testimony, below, and watch a video of the House speech here.)
Jerica will receive the Youth Leadership of the Year award from the Public Children Services Association of Ohio (PCSAO) this week for her advocacy work on behalf of foster youth.
Bobbi, a Clermont County adoption worker, and her husband Chris adopted Jerica at 18 years old and Elizabeth “Lizzy,” also 23, at three months old. They also adopted Haven, 4, and have a birth daughter, Caley, 20. Haven has lived with the family since age 2.
“What a ride it has been,” Bobbi said. “Our goal had been to be foster parents. You never know who will walk through your door and what their needs are. We were foster parents first to those we adopted. It was never my goal to adopt. Never say never.”
They had been foster parenting for Brown County for four years when Lizzy joined the family on April 19, 1996. Her adoption was finalized on Dec. 15, 1999, just over three months after Caley was born on Sept. 4, 1999.
The Grooms family has had 16 foster children over the years. Outside of the three they’ve adopted, the others have reunified with family members. Reunification efforts can last up to two years.
“It takes patience and an open mind,” said Jordan, a Clermont County adoption supervisor for many years. “We always want to reunify youth with their birth families when it is in their best interest. I’ve seen Bobbi happy when her foster children are going home.”
“I cry and cry and cry,” Bobbi said. “I’m so happy for them. But it’s always difficult to say ‘good-bye’. It’s always nice when we have continued visits after reunification.”
The requirements to become a foster parent are very similar to becoming an adoptive parent.
As of this writing, 15 youth in Clermont County were in need of permanent homes. Visit clermontforkids.org for information about foster care and adoption.
“There is a need for foster/adoptive families for all ages, but particularly for sibling groups and older youth,” Jordan said. “A lot of people think that youth at age 18 are ready to fly on their own. They’re not. The odds are against them, without needed support.”
The Grooms family met Jerica through her work at Frisch’s restaurant with Lizzy. Both were 17 and high school cheerleaders and athletes.
“When we decide to adopt, everyone in our family’s onboard,” Bobbi said. “They have to be. It’s a big responsibility, a big commitment. It’s not for a day, a week or a month. It’s for a lifetime. You can’t turn your back on them.”
As Jerica testified: “Many children who age out or emancipate from the foster care system, without permanency, face the reality of homelessness, poor education, early pregnancy, inappropriate relationships, increased rates of mental illness and joblessness. Through no fault of their own, I know that if I had remained with my biological family, I would never have received the encouragement or support I needed to attend and graduate from college.
“My agency and my family (the Grooms) were able to provide these supports for me.”
Testimony on Children Services Provisions in HB166
HHS Subcommittee, Senate Finance
May 15, 2019
Good Morning, Chairman Hackett, Vice-Chair Huffman, Ranking Member Thomas, and members of the Committee. My name is Jerica Estle-Grooms. I am 22 years old. Growing up with my biological family who were addicted to drugs, you can only imagine the things that I witnessed. Imagine walking in from school as a young child witnessing both parents stumbling because they’re so high while wondering why there was prescription bottles and needles laying on the table. The electric was shut off. The water was shut off. There were times that we didn’t have food because my parents’ addictions came before our basic needs. My mother died of a drug overdose in 2008. A month after my mother’s death at the age of 12, I, along with my twin brother, and our older two siblings entered foster care due to issues within our primary family. One year later, my father died in 2009 also due to a drug overdose. During my stay in foster care, I was in eight placements from 2008-2014. I lived at Wilson Children’s Home (a children’s residential center) in Adams County, Ohio, on four separate occasions along with several kinship and foster care placements. The last home is where I emancipated.
It wasn’t until I was 18, that I met my “family,” Chris and Bobbi Grooms of West Union, Ohio. I met the Grooms’ family through their oldest daughter, Lizzy, when we both worked at a local restaurant. Chris and Bobbi (known to me as “dad and mom”) were previous foster parents and had adopted Lizzy from foster care when she was a young child. Bobbi is also a social worker and has experience as an adoption worker in the public child welfare system. As difficult as things were and as closed off as I had become during my teen years, the Grooms family never gave up on me. They accepted me as part of their family and helped me, emotionally and financially, throughout my emancipation, through college and continue to help support me emotionally, into adulthood. My mom and dad also helped re-establish relationships with biological family members and with my twin brother. In July 2015, I legally accepted their name as my own: Jerica Estle-Grooms. Because of their support, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Business from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, in December 2018.
Many people, including caseworkers, supervisors, directors, etc., have referred to me as a success story. What you may not realize is, that in foster care, it can be difficult to form attachments, to make connections and to have the support of family into adulthood. Many children who age out or emancipate from the foster care system, without permanency, face the reality of homelessness, poor education, early pregnancy, inappropriate relationships, increased rates of mental illness and joblessness. Through no fault of their own, I know that if I had remained with my biological family, I would never have received the encouragement or support I needed to attend and graduate from college.
My agency and my family (the Grooms’) were able to provide these supports for me. My kinship placements came to be as a result of meeting people within the community during my high school years, where I was able to participate as a cheerleader, homecoming queen and work a job at local restaurants. These activities helped me develop connections with teachers, coaches and other community members that would encourage me to succeed and to not give up on my dreams in life!
I was supported and encouraged by my caseworkers and other staff of Adams County Children Services with working, attending school, graduating high school, going to prom, getting my driver’s license, opening a bank account, earning money, completing chores, and many other experiences “normal” children (meaning children not in the child welfare system), get to experience growing up. Adams County Children Services even purchased items for me for my dorm room when I entered my freshman year and caseworkers collected snacks and other items for me at their own expense, as well.
To this day, if I need anything (documentation, encouragement, whatever it may be), I can go to the agency or call my caseworker and get the help I need. Prior to graduation and since graduation, I have stopped by many times, just to say “thank you” to the staff at Adams County Children Services, who truly care about me (even when I didn’t understand that they did) and were so happy and proud to see me succeed in life. They can understand how hard it is for kids and young adults in my situation to navigate through life without the proper supports.
Many children in foster care that I have met throughout my life, don’t always share the accomplishments and opportunities that I have had. Theirs are often stories of struggle, pain and despair. No matter the situation, it always seemed to come back to that individual not having the appropriate people or supports to rely on. I’m so thankful, as this could have been ME, as well.
Ohio ranks last in the nation for support of local children’s services. Only 51 of Ohio’s 88 counties have levies to generate local funding for services. In counties without them, services are limited or simply unavailable. And in recent years, thousands more children are in need of services in large part because of the state’s opioid crisis. I AM TRULY the face of this tragic epidemic. I NOT ONLY lost one parent, I lost BOTH.
Many other children across Ohio, just like me, are counting on you to support Child Welfare Agencies at the state and county level. If made available, this funding could be used to provide the necessary services which will allow more children who emancipate from foster care the opportunity to succeed and not become a burden on taxpayers. Additionally, it can provide the necessary assistance to recruit more foster/adoptive homes for those children still waiting for permanency within the state child welfare system and provide more options for children who have yet to find their forever home.
PLEASE, remember my story as you consider the children services proposals included in Governor DeWine’s budget. These additional dollars are needed so more youth in Ohio can have additional support and opportunities that I did.
BATAVIA, OH (Sept. 23, 2019) — Before the 17-year-old girl and her mother, 50, entered the Family Healing Center – Clermont’s Therapeutic Visitation Program, things were bad.
“I did not have a relationship with my mom at all,” said Mary (not her real name), who is about to age out of foster care. “She was using drugs. I was using drugs. We were spiteful toward each other.”
But things have changed for the better, thanks to the visitation program. The partnership was started by Children’s Protective Services, a part of Clermont County Job and Family Services, in November 2018.
“Things are good now,” said Mary’s mom, parent of four children ages 32-17. She sees a positive future for herself and her daughter. Both plan on helping others, Mary as a social worker and her mom, possibly as a recovery coach.
Children’s Protective Services had offered visitation at the agency for two hours, once a week, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday-Friday. A monitor in a separate room would watch four visitations on a TV screen with audio.
Now, 90-minute, twice-a-week visits are available 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday-Thursday, and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday. They occur in three levels:
“It can be difficult for kids to go home because there had been trauma there,” said Sara Faison, foster care and visitation supervisor. “And, now that the parent’s sober, rules in the home have changed. There’s a new sense of normal.”
Children’s Protective Services initiated the change to help improve relationships and speed reunification of families. The agency contracts with Central Clinic Behavioral Health, which provides a program director/therapist and two visitation specialists.
“They helped me and my mom work through my childhood trauma,” Mary said. “They helped us get a better bond.”
They also helped her mom get housing – and stay sober since January 2018. She regularly attends both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and has been working the 12-step program with a sponsor.
“The counselors from Central Clinic helped tremendously,” the mom said. “Their knowledge, especially about setting boundaries, really helped.”
The Family Healing Center offers intensive therapeutic visitation services to children and families referred by Child Protective Services. The center uses evidenced-based treatment to enhance children and families to achieve overall health and wellbeing and build resiliency to alleviate barriers to reunification. Its staff assists in healing damage from trauma.
“Most of the families involved in Children’s Protective Services have experienced traumatic events and exhibit an array of treatment issues such as mental health and substance abuse problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), parent-child relationship issues and trauma-related emotional and behavioral problems,” said Courtney Rohr, director of the Family Healing Center – Clermont. Rohr, a therapist, works for Central Clinic Behavioral Health.
“When treating trauma, our goals include parental and family growth such as effective nurturing, parent-child bonding and healthy communication,” Rohr added. “We provide diagnostic assessments where we talk about symptoms, what’s going on with the parents, and create treatment plans for services. We offer trauma-informed care. Any child who has been removed from the home has gone through some sort of trauma.” FHC also provides individual and family therapy.
To help with adjustment to reunification, six home or community visits take place. Visitation specialists prepare and debrief with parents after the visits, going over what went well, what didn’t, and how to handle situations next time. They try to model the home environment as much as possible, having birthday parties and inviting cousins, grandparents and siblings in foster care to participate in visits . Some bring in board games, crafts, meals, etc.
“A lot of them are trying to break a cycle,” Rohr said. “They might not have have a lot of good parenting modeled for them when they were growing up.”
Faison said some older siblings must adjust to no longer playing the parenting role to their younger sisters and brothers.
“It’s the only family they lived in, so they did what they could to live and survive,” she said.
Mary said the visitations fostered positive communication with her mom.
“We’re able to do things together now,” she said.
Twenty-six families were active with Central Clinic’s FHC in late summer, as part of their overall case plans. Other parts of the plan could pertain to drug or domestic violence treatment. Children ages 0-18 in families with one to five children participate.
Under the new system, the number of parental no-shows has declined, Faison said. And staff has been able to intervene and redirect parents to understand how their mental health impacts their kids.
BATAVIA, OH (Aug. 30, 2019) — County Commissioners this week approved about $20,000 in funding from Clermont County Family and Children First (FCF) for suicide prevention services for five school districts.
Besides the suicide prevention activities that FCF supports, the Clermont County Mental Health & Recovery Board supports other suicide prevention programs through its funds and through ENGAGE 2.0 funding. Also, the Milford-Miami Township Drug Free Coalition is supporting suicide prevention activities in Milford. They have worked together to ensure resources don’t overlap.
FCF has funded suicide prevention program for many years. Initially, FCF funded schools to implement the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, as it’s known that bullying can lead to suicide. Then, FCF switched to the schools asking for funding for specific programs that they would like to implement.
The Clermont County Family and Children First Council was established in the mid-nineties in response to Section 121.37 of the Ohio Revised Code. Clermont County FCFC is comprised of government agencies, community stakeholders and parents, committed to improving the well-being of children and families through the strategic coordination of resources. Councils are designed to draw people out of their day-to-day systems to align resources and activities around a shared vision for Ohio’s families and children to thrive and succeed.
FCF receives state and federal funds for some programs, but most of its funds come from local contributions – from MHRB, Juvenile Court, JFS/CPS, BCC, Public Health, Clermont Recovery Center/GCBHS and Board of Developmental Disabilities. All of the funds that FCFC uses to support suicide prevention programs are local monies.
BATAVIA, Ohio (Feb. 6, 2019) – All Clermont County courts and many county offices will be closed Friday, Feb. 8, to allow employees to attend, view or participate in services for Sheriff’s Detective Bill Brewer, who lost his life in the line of duty on Feb. 2.
Sheriff’s Office: Administrative offices close at noon Thursday and all day Friday.
Common Pleas Court: Closes at 2 p.m. Thursday and all day Friday. This also includes Probation, Law Library, and Court Services.
Juvenile Court/Probate Court: Closes at 2 p.m. Thursday and all day Friday.
Prosecutor’s Office: Closes at 2 p.m. Thursday and all day Friday.
Domestic Relations Court: Closes at 2 p.m. Thursday and all day Friday. All hearings will be scheduled to the next available time.
Board of County Commissioners’ office, and departments including Water Resources Administration Building, Building Inspection, Permit Central, Job & Family Services, OhioMeansJobs/Clermont County, and Department of Community & Economic Development: Closed Friday.
Municipal Court: Closed Friday. Those who have an arraignment scheduled for Friday will be sent a new court date. They can also check the Clermontclerk.org website for updated information.
Common Pleas Clerk’s Office, Domestic Relations Clerk and all auto title offices: Closed Friday.
Public Defender’s Office: Closed Friday.
Auditor’s Office: Closed Friday.
Recorder’s Office: Closed Friday.
Engineer’s Office: Closed Friday.
Public Health: Closed Friday.
Coroner’s Office: Closed Friday; on call at 513.543.0129.
Some county offices will be open, including the Treasurer’s Office, which is accepting payments for first-half property taxes, which are due Feb. 13. The Municipal Clerk of Court Office will be open Friday. The Board of Elections office will be open Friday.
Bus service in Clermont County, including Dial-A-Ride, will operate normally.
The county website, www.clermontcountyohio.gov, has separate pages for each county office, including how to contact them. Check there if you have questions on whether an office is open or closed.
Services for Detective Brewer are as follows:
Family and friends are invited to a public visitation from 4-8 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 7, at Mount Carmel Christian Church, 4110 Bach Buxton Rd, Batavia, OH 45103, under the direction of E.C. Nurre Funeral Home in Amelia. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the church. Interment will follow at Pierce Township Cemetery.
BATAVIA, Ohio (Dec. 21, 2017) — Ohio’s children services agencies are being overwhelmed by the number of opioid-affected children coming into foster care, exploding county budgets and overwhelming available foster care resources.
According to a report released today by Public Children Services Association of Ohio (http://www.pcsao.org/pdf/advocacy/OpioidBriefingSlidesUpdated12-17.pdf), a thousand more Ohio kids will be spending the holidays in foster care this year, compared to 2016, instead of at home with their family. The statewide membership organization for county children services agencies added that by next Christmas, it could be 2,000 more if the rate at which children are entering custody due to the opioid epidemic continues along its current trajectory.
The numbers suggest an alarming trend, said Angela Sausser, PCSAO’s executive director. On July 1, 2013, 12,654 children were in agency custody. Four years later, that number had climbed to 15,145 kids. In October the number surpassed 15,500. “Many of these kids watched their parents overdose or die,” she said. “They are missing milestones with their families such as birthday parties and ringing in the New Year, and many are staying in care longer due to their parents relapsing.”
The cost of placements has skyrocketed too, from $275 million in 2013 to $375 million in 2017.
In Clermont County, 155 children were in the care of Children’s Protective Services (CPS) as of Nov. 30, many of them as a result of the opioid crisis. And the agency is also working with the families of 552 other children, some of whom are impacted by the opioid crisis, said Tim Dick, Deputy Director of CPS.
One of the biggest issues facing the county now, Dick said, is that there are not enough local foster care families to care for the children in CPS’ custody. Fifty-seven children are now placed outside of Clermont or an adjacent county, he said. Eighteen children are placed out-of-state.
“The foster care system largely operates on a first come, first serve system,” Dick said. “If on Tuesday, the only foster home available is in Mahoning County, we have no choice but to place the child there. When Greene County is looking for a home on Friday and the only one available is in Clermont County, that is where they will place their child. The end result is each county has children placed throughout the state.”
This adds to the trauma children face when they are removed from their home. Not only are they leaving their parents, they may also be leaving their community, their school, their friends and relatives – all the things that can provide some anchoring and comfort for a child.
“When kids are placed closer to their own communities, outcomes are generally better,” Dick said. Parents are familiar with the community their child is staying in, visits are more frequent and kids do not have to miss school to visit their parent.” Services are easier to coordinate, he added.
Voters in over half the counties, including Clermont, generously support property tax levies for children services, but as a whole, counties already shoulder more than half the cost of paying for child protection in Ohio, which relies more heavily on local dollars than any other state in the nation. Federal finance reform that would have helped address some of these issues was on the horizon last year, but stalled.
“Ohio needs a long-term solution to this crisis – and leadership to get us there before agency budgets collapse and our workforce jumps ship,” Sausser said. “We already have a lack of available foster homes in Ohio. With the projected increases, we will have children sleeping in county agency lobbies with no available foster family to take them in.”
(PCSAO provided material in this press release.)
To find out more about becoming a foster care parent in Clermont County, call 513.732.7765, or go to the www.ClermontforKids.org website.
BATAVIA, Ohio (Nov. 14, 2017) – June 12, 2017, was a big day for Erica Steele and her daughters. On that day, her adoption of sisters Samantha, 18, and Savannah, 16, was finalized. Both girls, who were taken from their mother’s home in Clermont County when they were very young, had lived with Erica in her College Hill home for two years as foster care children. Now, it was official. Erica, Samantha and Savannah were a legal family.
Erica, 37, loves her two daughters, and it’s apparent that they love their mom. For Erica, the age of the girls did not matter when she considered adoption. “Show them that you love them, and treat them the way you treat your own kids. Everyone will settle in as a family.”
November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and this year the theme “Every Teen Needs a Family No Matter What” is being emphasized. According to the most recent report from the Children’s Bureau, which advocates for the welfare of children and families, more than 110,000 children and youth in foster care are waiting to be adopted across the United States, and close to 12,500 of them are between the ages of 15 and 17 years old.
In Clermont County, of the 19 children who are currently available to be adopted, most are 12 or older. The heroin epidemic in particular has led to older children being in foster care, says Adoption Supervisor Julie Jordan.
Samantha and Savannah, who come from a family of five siblings, were removed from their home because of their mother’s drug use. They lived with their grandfather for many years and then with a family friend, but neither situation was good, the girls say. Samantha arrived at Erica’s home first.
“When I first got Samantha into my home, it was easy. She fit right in with the family. She had been having some problems in her other home, and when she came here, she didn’t have any problems. A couple of months later, I was asked would I be willing to take her sister, and that’s how I got Savannah.”
‘Meant to be’
Samantha echoes her mom’s description of her early days with Erica. “I loved it. I fit in perfectly. It was meant to be.”
For Savannah, it was more of an adjustment. “When I first got here, I was very distant. It was hard to start over. When I first got to school, I was bad. I needed a stable home to show me what to do. I never had the right guidance to put me on the right path. I wouldn’t be where I am now if not for Mom.”
“I just let them know my rules, and what I expect from them,” Erica says. “They are my family. I don’t use the word ‘foster kid.’ Any child who comes into my home is my kid.”
Erica says that when there is conflict – perhaps at school, or with a new foster care child, or with each other – she calls an “open table,” where the girls discuss what’s on their mind and Erica offers her perspective. “Open table keeps down the drama,” she says. “We have to live in the same home and deal with each other.”
Their family will soon be growing by another sister. Sam, 17, also from Clermont County, began living with Erica in April of this year. Erica has started adoption proceedings for Sam, and expects that it will be finalized in early 2018.
All three girls attend Aiken High School, and are doing well academically. Samantha has been accepted to the University of Cincinnati and Wright State University, and has scholarships and grants to UC. Sam is No. 1 in her class. “No one can touch her!” Samantha said. Savannah is in the Top 10 at Aiken in her class, and has been named a GE Scholar, which entitles her to a full-ride scholarship to college.
“I told the girls when they came into my home that they had to be active in something,” Erica said. All the girls got involved in school sports – softball, basketball and cheerleading — assisting in fund-raisers, and managing concession stands. All three now work at Chipotle in Finneytown, in addition to helping out their mom, who runs an in-home day care.
Samantha marvels at the changes that have happened to her. “Three years ago, I was this angry teenager fighting every day, not in school, doing all kinds of drugs, not caring about myself. I didn’t think I was going to make it to my senior year. Now I don’t do drugs. Now I go to school, I do sports, I work.”
Samantha and Savannah believe that the age of a child should not be an impediment to adoption. If anything, they argue, teens need family guidance and love even more. “It don’t matter the age,” Savannah said. “At the end of the day people need to have confidence building, they need the love, the connection, the bond. For teenagers it’s never too late.”
As for her new family? “We are on the path to success,” Erica says.
To find out more about how to become a foster-to-adopt parent for Clermont County, call 513.732.7765. ClermontForKids.org has more information on the process, as well as bios of the current children awaiting adoption under the dropdown “Waiting for a Family.”
BATAVIA, Ohio – Teens Need Families, No Matter What.
That’s the theme of 2017’s National Adoption Awareness Month, which is recognized nationally and in Clermont County in November every year. And finding homes for older children, particularly teens, can be difficult, said Julie Jordan, Adoption Supervisor at Children’s Protective Services.
“Most of the children we have waiting for adoption are 12 and older,” Jordan said. “Parents often think that older children are more challenging, but that is not necessarily the case. Their need for a home is just as great as it is for a younger child.”
“This is a critical time for these kids,” Jordan said. “They need support and guidance, just like any other teen.”
According to the most recent report from the Children’s Bureau, which advocates for the welfare of children and families, more than 110,000 children and youth in foster care are waiting to be adopted across the United States, and close to 12,500 of them are between the ages of 15 and 17 years old.
Currently, Clermont County has 19 children awaiting adoption. These are children who were removed from their parents’ home due to abuse and/or neglect. Most of these children then entered foster care. After parental rights were terminated – typically after two years, when parents fail to take the steps necessary for reunification – the children can be adopted.
In Clermont County, these teens include Clarissa, who is 16, and Kennedy, 17; Caleb who is 14, and Jayden, who is 13. Brief biographies can be found on each child at http://www.clermontforkids.org/waiting-children/.
The opioid crisis in Clermont County has contributed to the cases of abuse and neglect that compel CPS to remove children from their parents’ home, Jordan said. And that’s also a reason why there are more tweens and teens waiting for a family.
One pathway to adopting older children is to become a foster parent first. The adoption team at Children’s Protective Services promotes foster-to-adopt certification as the best way to offer children a stable and nurturing home. Dan and Viola Rice of Mount Orab, who have adopted five children through CPS’s foster-to-adopt, and have fostered more than 40 children, are strong advocates of this method.
“We love being foster care parents,” Dan says. “We ask our friends, or those we are just meeting – have you ever thought about foster-to-adopt?”
In 2017, 38 children have been adopted by 23 families to date.
To find out more about foster care or adoption through Clermont County Children’s Protective Services, please call 513.732.7765. The website www.clermontforkids.org has information on the foster-to- adopt process, and also has a list of children currently waiting for a forever family.
(Top photo: Dan and Viola Rice and their six children, five of whom have been adopted. Photo taken in November 2016.)
BATAVIA, Ohio (Oct. 19, 2018) – Raffle basket after raffle basket dot the floors and tables at CASA for Clermont Kids.
It’s only a few more days until the nonprofit’s annual Fall Fundraiser Dinner and Auction, and these raffle baskets – from Pottery Barn and Disney World, Cincinnati Zoo and Ballet, Loveland-Symmes Fire Department, and Chick-fil-a and Eastgate Brew and View, to name a few – are wrapped up and ready to go.
CASA gets no funding through local taxes, and depends on grants and fundraisers. It runs a lean operation with a break-even budget of $200,000 a year that includes salaries and office expenses for three full-time and two part-time workers.
The Fall Fundraiser is one of CASA’s big events. This year, it will be held at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3, at Holiday Inn Eastgate. The gala includes raffle baskets, silent auctions and live auctions. Tickets start at $40 per adult. For more information, call 513,732.7160 or go to CASA’s website: http://casaforclermontkids.org. CASA hopes to raise $40,000 at the Fall Fundraiser, Executive Director Nathan Bell said.
Lykins Energy Solutions, headquartered in Miami Township, is one of CASA’S biggest benefactors. Every September, CEO Jeff Lykins hosts a golf fundraiser for CASA. On Oct. 18, Lykins presented CASA with a $73,000 check – a huge help to the organization.
“Over the past 18 years Lykins has raised over $660,000 for CASA,” Bell said. “We are so grateful to Lykins and all their hard-working staff for supporting our program and working so hard each year. We could not have served as many children without their ongoing support.”
BATAVIA, Ohio (Oct. 19, 2017) – Cyndy Wright is a voice for children who have no voice.
Wright, an Assistant Vice President at Park National Bank, is a volunteer guardian ad litem (GAL) for children who enter the Juvenile Court system in Clermont County through no fault of their own. These are children who were removed from their parents’ care because of abuse or neglect. It’s a heartbreaking situation – and Wright, as that child’s guardian, represents that child’s best interests before Judge James Shriver or one of the magistrates in Juvenile Court.
“I am really passionate about it,” Wright said. “It is so rewarding to be able to see that these children have a voice, that they matter.”
Wright is one of 35 guardians ad litem for CASA for Clermont Kids but 35 is hardly enough to handle the almost 120 children under CASA’s care. CASAs – or Court Appointed Special Advocates – can be found throughout the United States and in most counties in Ohio. The ones in Ohio are governed by Ohio Supreme Court rules, said Nathan Bell, Executive Director for the Clermont CASA, which ensures that certain standards are met by the GALs.
Bell is passionate, too. His undergrad degree focused on sociology and psychology, and he always knew he wanted to work with children. Instead of becoming a therapist, he got a law degree from Duke University, and focused his efforts on courts and children. Before coming to Clermont County in 2014 to take over the reins at CASA, he was a full-time GAL for the Hamilton County Public Defender’s Office for 12 years.
‘The only consistent person’
“The difference that guardians ad litem make – other than being the community’s eyes on how the system is working for this child – is that we are sometimes the only consistent person in their life while they are involved in the court system,” Bell said. “As they move, changing homes, changing schools, changing CPS caseworkers, we are there. They know, this is my person, they are only for me, they are MY voice.”
To become a guardian ad litem, volunteers go through an initial screening and interview, before undergoing 30 hours of training. They go to court during this time to get a feel for the kinds of cases they will be assigned. Once they are certified, they are always accompanied to court by one of the volunteer coordinators who work for CASA.
Wright became interested in becoming a guardian ad litem after seeing the impact a GAL made in a case involving a member of her extended family. “I was happy that she was represented,” Wright said. “This was something I wanted to pursue … to be the voice of a child in the court system.”
She has been a guardian for six children since 2010, including two siblings. The children she has advocated for have been young – no one has been older than 8, with several between 18 months and 3 years. She visits each child at least once a month, and before every court hearing, which is typically every three months. Since most cases stretch from 18 months to two years, guardians must commit to being with the child during that period. (It takes up to two years to sever parental rights if the court decides that needs to happen.)
“When I meet with the child, I tell them what my job is,” Wright said. “I tell them that the judge wants to do what is best for them. I ask them what they would like me to tell the judge. Sometimes it’s as simple as ‘I scored a goal in soccer.’ Sometimes it’s ‘I just want Mommy and Daddy to be back together again.’”
To determine what is best for the child, the guardian will meet with and interview the family, will meet with relatives, and with teachers if the child is in school. “We follow the parents’ progress … are they working hard to get better? Are they visiting their child? It’s complex to say the least,” says Wright.
A solution for the child
Wright says she does get attached to the children, but training helps her to manage that. “It’s inevitable to care about the children,” she said, “but you know there is going to be a solution for the child. When you see the parents do the work and be reunited with their child, or when you see the child adopted into a forever family.”
CASA is always looking for volunteers, Bell says. “We are looking for people who are committed and consistent, who are able to do volunteer work for a minimum of two years. We need people who are kind, considerate, caring, and can also be the balanced voice for the child.”
Volunteers must have a clean criminal record, be able to drive, and have some flexibility so that they can appear at court during the hearings, held every three months. Visiting with children and others can be done at night or on the weekend. Wright says she is grateful that Park National, which is a big supporter of community causes in Clermont County, allows her the flexibility to be a GAL.
The commitment more than pays off, Wright says. “You have blessed a family, you have blessed a child – you are richer for it.”
To find out more about becoming a guardian ad litem for CASA for Clermont Kids, please contact Nathan Bell at 513.732.7160 or email him at Nathan@casaforclermontkids.org. #######