New child-welfare chief aims to restore confidence in Cuyahoga agency

ublished: Friday, October 21, 2011, 5:10 AM     Updated: Friday, October 21, 2011, 9:49 AM
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The new director of the Cuyahoga County child-welfare department says a top priority is restoring confidence in the agency, as officials grapple with recommendations a review panel made for it a year ago.

Patricia Rideout took over the Department of Children and Family Services in August, after county Executive Ed FitzGerald fired Deborah Forkas, the former chief. Forkas had been criticized for controversial budget cuts and for the agency’s handling of several cases.

Rideout, a former consultant for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a leading child-welfare organization, had been part of the task force appointed last year to examine the agency.

The group was formed after two children were killed and two others were starved nearly to death despite the department being involved in their circumstances. The agency also made missteps in a number of other cases, including one in which it missed warning signs from its own workers when it recommended custody of an infant to a convicted drug trafficker with a history of domestic violence.

The panel’s 72 recommendations included improving services to combat threats from domestic violence, substance abuse and mental illness — problems common to many child abuse and neglect cases.

During a session with task force members Thursday about department progress, Rideout said about 10 percent of suggested reforms have been adopted, but most are still in development. The agency is working more closely with the county mental health and drug addiction services board to assess parents. It has also adopted a more rigorous process for deciding child placements and reunifications with parents, she said.

“This is a long-term project as you can imagine,” she said.

Still unanswered is whether the department will have money to carry out some of the recommendations, including enhanced services after children are returned to parental custody.

Some services have been lost to budget cuts, and the agency has lost a number of staff members due to cuts and attrition. Staffing is down from 1,026 in 2009 to 801. Fifty workers left the department this year. Caseloads per worker have risen.

Rideout said one of her goals is to increase family visits for children in county custody, which has been shown to quicken family reunifications. But the department in 2009 cut staff assigned to transport children and monitor visits. The job now falls to caseworkers, who sometimes drive an hour or more to pick up children in foster care, sit through meetings and drive them back.

“We’re going to need creativity around this, but we’ve got to do better” Rideout told the gathering. “This is a high priority.”

David Crampton, a Case Western Reserve University professor of social work who chaired the task force, said in an interview there is concern about vacant staff positions.

“Some [jobs] have been unfilled for a while, so we’ll have to get some clarity on what is a realistic staffing level,” Crampton said.

Rideout is filling 11 jobs in the agency and has asked FitzGerald for authority to hire 15 more. FitzGerald, who accompanied Rideout to a meeting Wednesday with The Plain Dealer editorial board, said he will await recommendations from Rideout about programs that would require additional money.

Rideout said she is also trying to strengthen collaborations with neighborhood groups and other outside organizations, which she said are crucial to the department’s mission.

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NCCPR October 21, 2011 at 6:59AM


It’s not just budget cuts that may make it impossible for DCFS to carry out the task force recommendations. What really costs a fortune is the foster-care panic that Spector and editorial writer Sharon Broussard started with their grossly distorted coverage of child welfare. (Sorry – make that award-winning grossly-distorted coverage of child welfare).

The rate at which Cuyahoga County children are being torn from their families this year is 75 percent higher than it was in 2009, the last full year before the panic began. That year, DCFS took away 635 children. In 2011, if current trends continue, the number will top 1100.

That’s a rate nearly double the rate in Miami and more than triple the rate in Chicago – even when rates of child poverty are factored in. Yet in Chicago and Miami independent evaluations have found that reform efforts curbing needless removal of children have improved child safety.

The biggest cost is the cost in lives – the children’s lives ruined by needless foster care (Ms. Broussard: Have you ever even *read* the studies about the outcomes for children trapped in foster care?) and the children’s lives ruined when they were left in dangerous homes because caseworkers were so overloaded with needless removals that they couldn’t investigate properly.

But the other cost is financial. Even with the federal government picking up some of the tab, foster care is very expensive – so foster care costs must have skyrocketed in the past couple of years, draining scarce funds from better options.

Unless Pat Rideout can get the foster-care panic under control, DCFS will continue to deteriorate. And then, after the next high-profile tragedy, Ms. Broussard can call for Rideout’s firing and win another journalism award at the expense of suffering children.

Richard Wexler
Executive Dirctor
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform


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tranche October 21, 2011 at 7:06AM

The fact that we have this very large and very expense piece of government should cause us all to shake our heads. What a terrible comment on our society to see hundreds of children being “cared for” by a government agency.

Why are there so many children trapped in this tragic mess?

Could it be the first step in the system that starts adults and children on a path that leads them into this inept system? And if it is, shouldn’t we address this initial cause? This would mean rethinking the welfare program that rewards teenagers who have babies. Stop this program and begin real reform.

No more money for making babies. That’s it.


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Mr. Sandmich October 21, 2011 at 10:00AM


Indeed, the system should be changed as the system shouldn’t exist. I have a lot of sympathy for the workers down there at the child welfare office as they’ve been tasked with an impossible duty: use the power of an uncaring bureaucracy to try and fill in the gaps of uncaring child rearing. They do their best (they really do) for a society that desires it to be “someone else’s problem”, but I think we delude ourselves that it can even be done. If there were no governmental financial backstops I think it’s make a stronger community, and (by necessity) smarter parents, caregivers, and not-for-profits.


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grace111 October 21, 2011 at 8:03AM


I believe Tranche is on to something. Good comment Tranche! He is correct in the statement that our current welfare program/scam/whatever does reward people who have babies with no means to support them.

And, yes, this is one of the initial causes of so very many children in the foster care system. Rewarding you for unacceptable, irresponsible bahavior? Wrong in so many ways.


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grace111 October 21, 2011 at 8:09AM


As long as the subject is children, any update about the missing tean? I believe her grandmother or someone in her family was a victim of sowel. Have the Police and FBI who were tasked with finding her abductor got any leads? Did they find her and not broadcast the news? – anything?


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bopdoowop October 21, 2011 at 8:30AM


So when do we start having the discussion about why this is all happening in a country like America? When do we start getting honest about this stuff instead of marching Directors to the PD Editorial Board for interviews and increasing budgets and asking taxpayers to keep throwing money at a problem that is clearly not getting better, but is getting worse?

Don’t talk about high unemployment. This stuff has been going on forever, in good times as well as bad times. Let’s talk about how and why these children are being born into the circumstances in which they arrive. Let’s talk about how the entire welfare program is a failure and needs to be radically over-hauled to eliminate pregnancy as a condition for welfare.

When does the honest discussion begin?


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DoctorViolet October 21, 2011 at 10:36AM


After all this time the PD has yet to figure out how the County works. No, I repeat NO, director wants to cut their department’s budget. The previous director was forced to do so by the previous County Administer, Jim McCafferty. He was in so far over his head that he was drowning and took the rest of the County with him. He was also responsible for most of the case issues that made headlines. The PD, that for some reason (could it have ben his kissing up?) seemed to love McCafferty never noted when those cases and the policies that drove them were actually established and who was director. The problem was further exacerbated when Fitzgerald came along and had no idea how to run social service programs and laid off case workers and froze vacant positions. Case loads through out the count are outrageous.

Sharon Brosard and the PD martyred the former director in order to get headlines and then continued to ignore the truth about operational issues. I wonder if Brousard’s friendship with Brenda Frasier, former DCFS Assistant Director, fired and eventually indicted had anything to do with it?


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bigbite October 21, 2011 at 12:00PM


But the department in 2009 cut staff assigned to transport children and monitor visits. The job now falls to caseworkers, who sometimes drive an hour or more to pick up children in foster care, sit through meetings and drive them back.

The reason they were cut? The union voted and rejected a modified contract that would have kept those jobs of the transporters. Ooppss.


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Gene Howard October 21, 2011 at 12:15PM


Having a new administrator who was a consultant for the Anne E. Casey Foundation is asking the fox to guard the hen house. It is their 10 year mission to put children back into dangerous situations that has lead to the problems that Cuyahoga county and many other child welfare systems are experiencing. 10 years ago this county was being hailed as a national model because it dismantled its child protection and out of home care system to conform to the new philosophy being promoted by Casey. Now you see children all over the country dying. Refer to the recent BBC documentary on the subject.


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bigbite October 21, 2011 at 12:41PM


Pat Rideout was a deputy director prior to going over to the Casey Foundation. That agency has reduced the number of children in custody by over 4,000!!! And of those 4,000, how many are still alive? 3,996 that we know of. While any child death is tragic, noone can predict what a parent will do.


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letsbtruthful October 21, 2011 at 1:58PM


…”the agency has lost a number of staff members due to cuts and attrition. Staffing is down from 1,026 in 2009 to 801. Fifty workers left the department this year.”
A significant number of social workers have left since the re-appointment of Pat Rideout (yes, bigbite is right, she was previously employed as an administrator. So much for Fitzgerald’s philosophy about change and a new, fresh approach to county government. She’s been around the block at the child welfare agency already and didn’t do much good then as an administrator, hence her leaving. Can you say, Deborah Forkas? Same thing; left and then was hired back. We all know the eventual outcome of this.) Pat Rideout wouldn’t be able to tell you why any of the employees have left since she has been there because she has stated directly to exiting employees that she just can’t make the time to be “bothered” with this.



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