GALLIPOLIS — Gallia public school district educators gathered with Gallia Children’s Services Director Russ Moore, Gallia Job and Family Services Director Dana Glassburn and Gallia Commissioners in the Gallia Courthouse Thursday morning to discuss the potential for hiring a full-time children’s services case worker to be dedicated to meeting public school system needs.
Moore addressed the commissioners first, stating that educators and administration from both Gallipolis City Schools and Gallia County Local Schools, along with his office, felt it was necessary to create a full-time case worker position to serve as a liaison between the schools and Gallia Children’s Services.
“This arose out of the fact that when we receive referrals to our agency from the school systems, the schools have often felt that process isn’t as helpful as they would like for it to be,” said Moore. “Therefore, I made an effort to go out and speak with superintendents and principals of the schools buildings…What I found out from that is that they would really like us to communicate much more effectively with them and collaborate with them more effectively than what we are.”
Moore said he received positive feedback from the schools and also some constructive criticism.
For 2017, Gallia Children’s Services received 480 reports of child abuse or neglect. Around 24 percent of those reports originated from public schools. This did not include reports directly made to the Gallia County Sheriff’s Office. Through May 31 this year, the agency had received 188 reports and 39 of those were received from the school system.
“You’re aware as commissioners because we come in and meet with you that we have three protective services case workers that are working all of our abuse and neglect reports and they stay very busy,” said Moore. “Therefore, it has made good communication with the school somewhat difficult and we really, truly understand the schools’ desire to see that improve and see how it is that we can work more closely so teachers and administrators know that the families and concerns they report to us are being addressed and children’s needs met.”
The estimated cost for hiring the new position for Gallia Children’s Services was priced around $53,800.
“Our agency has been operating on a limited budget for quite sometime now and I think you’re aware more than anybody how frugal our agency has been over the last number of years,” said Moore. “But it has also limited some of the things that we can do in the community and we’ve had to learn to live with that and figure out ways we can best serve our community on these limited resources.”
Supporters of creating the new position stated they felt it would be an investment into child safety and problem prevention.
Gallia Children’s Services Board member Phil Skidmore thanked the commissioners for their continued support.
“We would really like to have this one person hired that would take and do everything for the schools because our kids are really important to us, as you know, and this is one way we think we can help out our child abuse and other problems going on in the county we might not be aware of,” said Skidmore.
Vinton Elementary School Principal Leslie Henry delivered some statistics regarding children within her school.
“I ask you to put yourself in a child’s shoes,” said Henry. “How many of you have to worry whether or not you eat today? How many of you have to worry about where you will sleep tonight or at all? How many of you have to worry about whether you will be neglected, abused or mistreated when you get home tonight?…It overwhelms me to think that many of the kids in our county have these worries and fears and face these situations every single day.”
More than 70 percent of the students in Vinton Elementary come from “economically disadvantaged” homes, said Henry. She gathered data by class and then merged it into grade level with around 60 students per grade level. Vinton Elementary encompasses students from pre-kindergarten up to fifth grade. Around 38 percent of students in “one particular grade level” come from single family homes. In another grade level, 23 percent of students live with someone other than parents. In the same grade level, 23 percent of students had a parent or caregiver currently incarcerated or had been at a point in time. In another unspecified grade level, 13 percent of students had been subject to abuse, trauma or witness to either. In another grade level, seven percent of students live in homes with drug use.
“I want to remind you that these statistics are less than actual because the numbers only represent the situations we are aware of,” said Henry. “It’s weekly and sometimes daily that myself and the educators in my building find that there are other students falling into those categories…The data I think helps to illustrate the situations children are in are less than ideal and lacking greatly in many different types of supports needed.”
“When I look in the face of a child,” said Henry emotionally, “who has just revealed to me that they have been subject to neglect, abuse, trauma or crisis, and I tell them that I will get them help, they believe me. And I fail them miserably. It’s not because I want to. It’s because the situations are prioritized because of the resources we are lacking. They don’t have the resources to respond to all the situations we place before (Gallia Children’s Services) and they don’t respond as intensely as they need to because of the lack of resources.”
Gallipolis City Schools Superintendent Craig Wright said as community partners the assembled were not coming to demand from the commissioners, and if nothing more came from the conversation that he hoped it resulted in awareness and a stronger partnership to get to the results needed.
“As you know, our county is plagued by drug abuse, child neglect, child abuse and poverty,” said Wright. “We see it every day in our school system and in our community. It’s not just a communal but a societal thing. As a district, the frustration we often have is that we try to solve societal issues. We should just be here for the children’s education…It really comes down to if we’re going to meet the educational needs of our students, then we need to meet their basic needs and their safety. If we can’t meet these needs, then we’ll never meet the educational needs of our students.”
Wright said he often thought of early interventions as being important to address problems and that he saw the addition of a case worker as doing that.
“Things have probably changed but one of the things I did enjoy while being a building principal was helping kids who needed help,” said Commissioner Brent Saunders of his past experience as an educator. “To be honest with you, the one you’re asking for is not enough, and I know that. The state has got to do something with funding, especially educational needs…I know all of you have the same message and I can tell you that the state is hammering local government and making it tougher on us every year…It is overwhelming.”
Commissioner Harold Montgomery and Saunders said they were open to creative solutions in finding a way to fund such a position but it could be difficult because of further cuts to funding, like the loss of nearly $600,000 from Medicaid-managed care organization (MCO) sales tax due to state government decisions. If the county were to attempt to fund a new position, it would likely come at a cut to another department that was not mandated by law to be funded by the county. If so, that would likely be pulled from 4-H programming and Soil and Water District budgets.
Commissioner David Smith was not present at the meeting.
“We have to fund the sheriff’s office and it’s hitting us hard. We have increases in the prosecutor’s office and the court,” said Montgomery. “Our budget is being consumed and it’s a little more this year. In the past year, 46 percent of our general fund monies go to (criminal justice needs)… “
Commissioners said the Gallia general fund has around $8.6 million. No decisions were made during the meeting.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.