YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With all 120 of its staff considered essential workers, work at Mahoning County Children Services didn’t miss a beat last year and continued its mission of ensuring the safety of children in the area.
The agency created a response plan that focused on slowing transmission, reduced exposure risk, protected family health and ensured continuity for its operations.
Among the challenges were new finding new foster homes for kids as some caregivers refused new placements because of the virus, preparing for foster caregivers who refused visitation with parents and providing care for children who were exposed or diagnosed with COVID-19 until a foster home could be found.
“Early in the pandemic, we secured isolation emergency shelter facilities which are stocked with essential items necessary for potential overnight stays,” says public information officer Jennifer Kollar. “The goal is to reduce the trauma of the removal as much as possible while keeping the community, staff and children safe.”
The acquisition of new technology in 2019 – include laptops and the implementation of and electronic records database – also helped Mahoning County Children Services move 95% of its staff to remote work in mid-March.
With limitations placed on in-person events, the agency celebrated two national events – Child Abuse Prevention Month in April and National Adoption Month in November – using social media and creating digital events and campaigns.
Two caseworkers were featured in the Public Children Services Association of Ohio’s “Profiles of Hope & Courage” series highlighting front-line caseworkers during the pandemic.
And over the course of several months, Mahoning County Children Services began implementing a diversity and inclusion plan, which included the adoption of a social justice position statement, the addition of a webpage to address civil injustice and, in November, the hiring of the agency’s first diversity, equity and inclusion officer.