Mother reunited with kids: JFS success story

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - In an effort to provide balanced news, FOX19 reached out to the Hamilton County Job and Family Services department following the death of Damarcus Jackson to share a positive story of the agency's impact on local families.

Last year alone 252 kids in Hamilton County were reunited with their birth parents according to Job and Family Service officials.

One mother recently reunited with her kids believes the community is being too hard on JFS after the Damarcus Jackson case. She says they are just one piece of the reunification process and that case workers are being forced to do more with less.

For her, JFS changed her life, giving her the resources to go from an addict on her own to a mother now nearly two years sober.

"I longed to have my kids back," Jenny O'Leary said.  "I would go to sleep and just wish they were there, but it was all the choices I had made that they weren't with me."

O'Leary's kids were taken away by the Hamilton County Job and Family Services department on June 30th of 2009.

"I was a drug addict out of control and I couldn't get it together," O'Leary shared.

Her son, now five, and two other kids went first to their grandma's house then onto foster care.

"They filed a motion for permanent custody so then I really got myself in gear," O'Leary recalled. "[Thinking] 'They're serious, they're really going to take my kids from me forever'."

She says the road to get her kids back was not easy or short.

"This is a big accomplishment for me," O'Leary said holding a medallion. "It's an anniversary for being clean."

Jennifer went though drug addiction therapy, intensive outpatient program, parenting classes and random drug testing.

"Some days I thought it was never going to happen because they were really hard on me, they were really hard on me," O'Leary said of her experience with JFS.

A year and five months later, however, her son and daughter came home. The youngest was adopted by a foster parent who is a family friend.

"I just thought it was in his best interest to be with her because he was with her for so long," O'Leary explained.

She says everyone deserves a second chance with their kids if they put in the work and make the changes.

"The mom in me is so happy right now and I'm proud of myself because I did this work," she said.  "Yes, I was made to do it, it was mandatory, required for me to do it, but I had a choice: either do what they're asking me or don't and my kids get lost in the system. I refused to have that happen."

O'Leary says the work is not over, however. She says her addiction is a daily battle and she regularly meets with JFS workers and submits to random drug screenings.

O'Leary did voice a concern that drug addicts might have a more difficult time getting their kids back than those dealing with abuse issues.

"It's not just the people who are on drugs that are bad parents," argued O'Leary. "But there's a lot of stuff that goes on behind closed doors people don't know about."

To address that concern FOX19 contacted JFS. They say screenings are done to every potential caregiver in the home to assess risk. If abuse is a concern, tests are done to determine the root cause and then a case plan is made. Treatments include anger management classes, parenting classes, and other therapies.

Copyright 2011 FOX19. All Rights Reserved.