The Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services has announced a series of actions following the recommendation of a panel of local and national child welfare experts.
The panel was formed following the death of 4-year-old Aniya Day Garrett. She died on March 11 of this year and her mother and mother's boyfriend were later charged with killing her. Multiple investigations later revealed several warning signs of possible abuse, and both children's services and Aniya's daycare centers have come under fire for failing to protect her.
Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish said in a statement, “I remain deeply disturbed by the death of Aniya Day Garrett and want to protect any child in our County from coming to harm. Child safety must always be our first priority. We are following all of the recommendations of the panel.”
Based on the expert panel’s recommendations, the county is initiating the following measures:
- Will house a Deputy Sheriff at the DCFS and will hire 10 additional retired law enforcement officers to assist with investigations.
- Will hire additional staff to reduce the caseloads carried by staff. The goal is to hire 12 additional case workers within 90 days to bring the overall child-protection specialist staff to 500. Staffing levels will be continuously monitored.
- Newly hired case workers will be assigned to work with experienced case workers for 6 months before they are permitted to handle cases on their own.
- Make every effort to include the entire family in case investigations to include interviews with mothers, fathers and children.
- Work closely with local collaboratives, police, and the community. Restore funding to a collaborative that was cut earlier this year and use geographically – related case assignments where possible.
- Engage in a series of programs to educate mandated reporters of abuse and neglect (such as day care centers) about their obligations, in accordance with Ohio Revised Code Section 2151.421, to report suspected abuse and neglect immediately, without delay, by phone or in person and then follow with a written report.
The panel made the following recommendations:
- Strengthen investigative skills with added law enforcement expertise.
- Include entire family in case evaluation and investigation with interviews with mothers, fathers and children.
- Balance parental rights and child safety need, with latter being the first priority.
- Strengthen relationships with neighborhood collaboratives with case assignments related to neighborhood connections.
Jan Flory, Chair of the panel said, “The Independent Panel has completed its work and presented findings and recommendations to the County Executive, Armond Budish. We are pleased to hear that the recommendations will be implemented. The report is focused on how the system works with improvements that will strengthen the ability of DCFS to keep children in this county safe.
We submitted this report with the deepest respect for DCFS staff at every level who are charged with the public responsibility of protecting children 24/7. A theme that emerged during the work of the Panel was the critical need for everyone to be ‘fierce advocates’ for every child in our communities. That is the job for each one of us.”
In May, the county announced a first series of steps which included engaging in a listening tour across the county, assigning a deputy sheriff to assist in investigations, and hiring more social workers.