Butler Co. Children Services to make 'major changes' following recent scrutiny

BUTLER COUNTY, OH (FOX19) - Butler County Children Services are trying to re-vamp their agency with some major changes.

Director Jerome Kearns says he's unsure if their work is consistent with their mission statement.

The department of children services has come under scrutiny in recent years with the tragic death of three-year-old foster child Marcus Fiesel in 2006 and again in 2012 when Joanna and Shawn Blackston allegedly locked their 12-year-old daughter in the basement for nearly a month.

The agency set a 120 day deadline to make these changes and they're on about day 80 of 120 to implement the changes.

One of the issues is the high number of kids they have in custody, 462.

Sue Gregory has been a foster parent since 1990, taking in more than 100 kids while also adopting three kids as well.

"It's so wonderful when they come back. You have them when they're five or six and then they come back many years later and they let us become part of their life. That's really awesome," said Sue Gregory.

Along with working closely with Children Services, Gregory started FAST - a group who works to strengthen foster and adoptive families.

She says incidents involving child neglect in the last decade including Marcus Fiesel's death in 2006 are heartbreaking.

"They could have called someone and gotten help and said help me I need help, I'm overwhelmed I can't do this. That did not need to end like that," said Gregory.

Children Services director Jerome Kearns says enough is enough.

"Trying to figure out ways that we can increase the number of eyes we have on that kid and in the family's home whether it's through our workers or collaborative partnerships," said Jerome Kearns.

Kearns says step one is reducing the number of kids in foster care.

"We are trying to look at reunification, bringing families back together," said Kearns.

He says one of the issues is the heroin epidemic, and too many parents can't take proper care of their kids.

"We want to take some deliberate actions that help us reduce that number while we protect kids," said Kearns.

Step two is working with different churches, law enforcement, and increasing family participation in case planning. Kearns and Gregory agree, the clearer the line of communication, the easier it is to find out about cases of neglect.

"Even if they don't get more foster parents, if they can get more people involved I think that's really going to be a plus," said Gregory.

Kearns stresses this is more than just re-organizing and changing a few things.

This is about changing the culture of everyone who works within the agency, and their new partners in the community as well.

An executive team with Children Services is set to present the final changes with the Butler County Board of Commissioners next month.

Children Services will then roll out the new plan in June.