Pounds: Yes on Issue 7Written by Tom Pounds | President / Publisher | firstname.lastname@example.org
Lucas County Children Services (LCCS) works 24/7 to care for some of the most vulnerable among us, children at risk of abuse or neglect. Fifty percent of children served are age 5 and younger, according to Julie Malkin, public information officer for LCCS.
On the Nov. 4 ballot, the agency will ask voters to renew and extend its 1.4-mill levy, currently set to expire in 2016, and increase that by an additional 0.35 mills through 2018. For the owner of a $100,000 home, that’s a total of about 15 cents per day.
With declining property values and dropping federal and state funding, LCCS is feeling the squeeze. Ohio ranks 50th in the nation in child welfare funding and is the only state that relies on levies to fund services, Malkin recently told Toledo Free Press. The agency has an annual budget of $40 million, with more than half that coming from levies.
LCCS has already cut $6 million from its budget by not filling vacant positions, reducing support to families who take in relatives’ children and spending down its budget stabilization fund.
If the levy fails, LCCS will be forced to trim $1.8 million more, which will likely mean eliminating the extra money it provides to “kinship caregivers”; eliminating recreation, mentoring and tutoring programs; and ending some of the service provider contracts that help parents access services faster, Malkin said.
The agency is particularly worried that eliminating the supplemental kinship caregiver funds will result in more families unable or unwilling to take in relatives’ children, Malkin said. That would mean more kids in foster care, when LCCS is already struggling to attract and retain families, who haven’t seen a pay increase since 2005.
LCCS caseworkers often do difficult, sometimes dangerous and always vital and sensitive work. The links between children who experience trauma and those who end up in trouble later are well-established, Malkin said, so failing to help LCCS now will likely simply transfer the tax burden to the criminal justice system or treatment centers later.
LCCS is doing something right. It leads the state in finding adoptive homes for children. It also stays involved with children past age 18, which Executive Director Dean Sparks credits with increasing high school graduation rates among teens in its care from 20 percent to about 60 percent.
Sparks has recently come under scrutiny for “double-dipping” — retiring to collect a pension only to be rehired at LCCS at a (slightly) reduced salary. Lucas County Commissioners have raised concern there isn’t a succession plan in place, as Sparks is scheduled to retire mid-2015 and the two positions directly beneath him are empty. But Sparks told Toledo Free Press that passing the levy will address both issues as it will allow the agency to stabilize financially, improving the odds of attracting quality new leadership.
Either way, it’s the kids who are most important. For less than 15 cents per day, we can ensure LCCS can do its best to help all children feel safe at home and get off to the right start in life. LCCS is in the business of protecting our children and there’s nothing more important than that.
Tom Pounds is president and publisher of Toledo Free Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.