MOUNT VERNON — Three Knox County social workers described in detail to county commissioners Tuesday a visit to three area homes a day earlier during a tour provided to state Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Westerville). Included was a vivid description of a domestic violence situation and how that ties into more resources needed for women in such predicaments.
The social workers — Heidi Beavers, Toni Hill and Danielle Swendal, the county’s lead social services supervisor — offered their report along with Matthew Kurtz, director of Knox County Job & Family Services (JFS). They noted that Carfagna asked a lot of good questions, which included his concern for their safety and asking if the county’s social workers enter homes with any firearm protection.
“At one point he mentioned (having a) gun, and I said ‘No thank you, I don’t feel safe with a gun,’” Hill said. “It was just nice seeing somebody at the state level interested in what we do.”
Kurtz said entering homes with firearms would be inadvisable, since trust is being built with families who may have issues including drug use and domestic violence, and may have children present. If social workers feel like they could be in danger, they can be accompanied by a Knox County Sheriff’s officer.
Hill said she has only been in such a situation one time. Social work is about engaging with people who are hopefully attempting to undergo a positive transformation in their lives, Kurtz offered, adding, “You know, it’s kind of tough to do with a gun.”
Beavers, who works with family cases involving extended periods of time, described Carfagna as “being really down to earth and asking a lot of good questions.” She described to him a woman who has been taunted by the father of her children. The woman works two part-time jobs, but because her income level is slightly above poverty guidelines, she cannot afford her own apartment and doesn’t qualify for help. Beavers said a lack of a place to stay for her has meant she has to stay with her father-in-law, which is not the ideal situation. It has allowed her to keep her children with her. A lack of resources for women like her are a real issue, she said. The woman was placed on a list to enter a homeless shelter in Fredericktown.
The social workers provide services to about 120 children through the Children Resource Center, including residential treatment services such as counseling and foster care. Although the county has a foster parent program, not having enough foster parents means many children often get placed in foster homes well outside Knox County, wherever there is space — such as Cleveland, Cincinnati or even West Virginia. Caseworkers spend much of their time driving to these outside locations to provide required social services to these children, the social workers said. They are also required to interview family members including parents. A one-day visit to one child can involve an all-day trip for a Knox County social worker to an out of county location.
They said Carfagna also expressed concern over not having a homeless shelter year-round in Knox County. Commissioner Bill Pursel asked if 20 beds would be enough to accommodate those who need a temporary home. But Kurtz said The Winter Sanctuary, which was open during the winter through this past April, separates men and women and is not set up to accommodate families with children that hope to stay together.
Still, the social workers said, having a year-round homeless shelter would help. They mentioned one mother who has lived in her car with her small children because in working two part-time jobs, she earns too much to qualify for poverty-based housing. But she knows the local school system here and wants to remain.
Kurtz said he thanked Carfagna for his role in helping see that the state legislature provides additional funding for JFS. But that funding from the state only gets Job & Family Services programs statewide back to a funding level that existed before the recession of 2008 through 2010, he said. Since then, Knox County JFS has gone from serving 25 to 30 children to about 120 served at the Children Resource Center, he said. The county’s 17 social workers average about 18 cases each.
Kurtz said Knox County JFS spends up to $250,000 per month on treatment costs, with the most severe cases of children with behavioral and other issues taking up a large percentage of the cost.
“We’ve sort of become a system of last resort,” Kurtz said. “Some of these children have nowhere else to turn and receive the treatment they need in a safe environment.”
Resources for teens are especially difficult to find because finding those who wish to provide services to teens with drug and alcohol issues is difficult, the social workers said. Some may have “massive” behavioral issues where counseling and therapy have not resolved their problems. Many of those teens are sent out of the area, and if placed in residential facilities must be seen once a month; if they are in a foster home, they require twice-monthly visits. Their moms and dads must also be engaged in the process. Social workers are also required to make weekly appearances in courts on mental health and drug-related matters.
One social worker commended The Freedom Center for being one of the few places in Knox County that provide services to teens with severe drug issues. However, because those teens often come into contact with adults served by the center, negative influence can occur — as one teen ended up in a crack house a few days later.
Carfagna’s social workers-provided tour of homes Monday was not open to the media due to privacy issues, and his office did not return messages left by the News following the tour.