Apr. 13—LIMA — Sarah Newland, the newly-appointed executive director of the Allen County Children's Services, shared with members of the Kiwanis Club of Lima information about programs in place to help children and families who in many cases are experiencing the most troubling and difficult periods of their lives.
Her presentation was in conjunction with Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is celebrated each year in April.
Newland told members that upwards of 80% of families with which Children Services become involved are experiencing at least one adult family member who is suffering from addiction or some sort of substance abuse challenge.
The agency's work became increasingly difficult over the past 12 months as the COVID-19 pandemic changed the landscape for many families, she said.
"The biggest impact of the pandemic is that we saw a large decrease in the number of calls our office received concerning child abuse and neglect," Newland said. "In April of last year calls were down 43% from the previous year. But that does not necessarily mean less abuse was occurring. It just means children were having less contact with mandated reporters" of child abuse, such as teachers, law enforcement officers and health care workers.
Newland said the opioid epidemic in Allen County a few years back has transitioned into an addiction crisis that has "hit families hard."
She updated club members about the agency's Ohio START program, a voluntary intervention program for families with parental drug addiction issues.
START, an acronym for Sobriety Treatment And Reducing Trauma, features the appointment of a counselor from a mental health agency to serve as a mentor for families and also to assist caseworkers from Children Services to develop a plan of action to help all family members affected by drug addiction and abuse. It also includes the addition at the agency in 2020 of a full-time position who specializes in substance abuse issues.
Newland said early intervention is the key to reducing drug dependency and addiction issues.
She also lauded the 30 Days to Family program that was launched at the agency in 2018 in response to the growing number of substance abuse cases. The goal of the program is to keep children who have been removed from homes out of foster care by placing them with members of their extended families.
Children Services caseworkers are challenged to find up to 80 relatives who could be asked to house a child while their parents are being treated or counseled for myriad problems. To date, 35 children have been placed with relatives through the program.
Newland was appointed as the agency's executive director in March.
"As I begin this new position, I'm excited to share with you the good work our employees do every day," she said. "The work we do today is an investment in the future of our community."