Scioto County Children Services Director Jason Mantell responded to concerns about the state’s emphasis on family reunification during a meeting of the agency’s board. This comes after an 18-month-old girl under the agency’s supervision died after being returned from an overnight visit with her non-custodial mother.
This is the third death in three years of a child in the agency’s care. Mantell said that reunification is the state’s ultimate goal. “Ohio is a reunification state. I want to make it clear that our employees and caseworkers must separate their personal feelings. I am not defending or promoting reunification. I’m not criticizing it either.”
Reunification is State Priority
He said his agency is required by the state to pursue reunification if it is at all possible. “That is not Director Jason Mantell. That is not the prosecutor’s office. We don’t have a choice.” He said he understands that’s not what people want to hear but what employees are required to do. “They have no choice. If parents are meeting specific guidelines.”
Mantell said his agency works with rehabs, mental health facilities, and the courts. “We don’t always agree. The common goal is child safety with the hope we can reunify the family.”
He said the agency has nearly 400 children in custody and that reunification isn’t always possible. “There are tragic events that take place either after reunifications or during. We just experienced one. You have never and will never hear me defend anything related to tragedy regarding children. I’m not going to make excuses.”
“Hold Me Accountable”
Mantell said that he would be as transparent as he is permitted about the investigation into the death of the toddler who had been placed in kinship care though her mother was permitted overnight visits.
“We do not have an option but at least work towards it to begin.” Mantell said he agrees that reunification doesn’t always work. “No one in our agency wants this to happen. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks ‘how can I be derelict of duty?’ It’s an imperfect system. I would love to present to you a reason or something succinct that’s a common denominator. It’s awful what our agency and law enforcement have to see on a daily basis. If there is one thing that has not been presented to me.”
He said additional employees would help but people must remember they work with a variety of agencies on cases. Caseworkers do not go out into the field and make unilateral decisions about cases. “This is a difficult and challenging thing to do. There is no justification for the death of a child. If there was a mistake made or something we can do better, I will acknowledge it. Hold me accountable.”