Report urging CSB pay hikes is turned down

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 11

Lucas County commissioners yesterday rejected a fact-finder’s report calling for raises for more than 200 county Children Services board employees, pushing the child welfare agency one step closer to a strike.

Commissioners voted unanimously to reject 3 per cent general wage increases for union caseworkers, secretaries, and nurses.

Wages for all three groups are part of a step system that increases pay with experience.

“Their current salaries are near the top of their field in this area,” said Reuben Bumpus, president of the Children Services board. “We want to eliminate some of the step increases.”

Union representatives said they likely will file by the end of today the documents necessary to go on strike.

“I’m very disappointed, but I’m not surprised,” said Sally Powless, a staff representative for the Professionals Guild of Ohio, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 544.

She said the union will submit a strike notice within the next two business days.

By law, the union cannot go on strike until 10 days after it submits notice.

In a Wednesday night meeting, the Children Services board rejected the same three fact-finder recommendations. The board is appointed by the county commissioners.

“We were very pleased that they affirmed the decision the board came to,” Mr. Bumpus said. “We feel the employees are paid very well.”

Both the Children Services Board and the county commissioners approved the fact-finder’s recommendations on contracts for five CSB attorneys, but the attorneys themselves had earlier rejected the report.

The fact-finder recommended that they not be added to the step system.

By rejecting the proposal, the attorneys will now be part of future negotiations aimed at avoiding a strike.

Ms. Powless said those negotiations might begin again on Wednesday at the earliest.

Mr. Bumpus said he did not know of any previous strikes in the agency’s history.

“In the event of a strike, I hope the community will rally around us to keep the children’s interests highest,” he said.

The union represents about 200 caseworkers, five nurses, 10 secretaries, and five attorneys.

The contracts for caseworkers, nurses, and secretaries expired in April; the attorneys are seeking their first collective-bargaining agreement.

A beginning caseworker makes $469.35 for a 35-hour week. After 12 years of experience, the salary rises to $708.05 a week.

Seminar declares foster care crisis in county, nation

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 16

“Foster care is in crisis in this county and this country.”

That was the verdict of Robin Reese, the coordinator of placement services for Lucas County Children Services at a conference on foster care held yesterday at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

“Oftentimes, we don’t give children the attention they need until they’re lost,” she said.

The seminar was sponsored by Mercy College of Northwest Ohio and attended by more than 100 foster parents, county officials, and social workers.

The event was filled with stories about the sad shape of the children they see daily. One mentioned a 14-year-old girl who was HIV-positive, had been sexually molested by at least three members of her family, and was a drug addict. She was not receiving treatment for either the virus or her drug problem.

John Hollingsworth, Children Service’s director of protective services, said he acknowledges the problems in the system. “In my opinion, in child welfare, there is a limited commodity of common sense,” he said.

Blade staff writer Sam Roe said Children Services and other government agencies should be more forthcoming with information about publicized cases, such as 15-year-old Vicente Guevara, who will stand trial soon for the unprovoked killing of a 7-Eleven clerk.

“I know confidentiality is a concern. There is also a public good in accountability,” Mr. Roe said.

Mr. Hollingsworth said he agreed some information should be released, but noted that he was limited by law. “I didn’t write the law. Until it’s changed, I have to follow the rules,” he said.

The keynote speaker at the conference was Charlotte Lopez, the 1993 Miss Teen USA and a former foster child. Miss Lopez spent her childhood in six foster homes and a group home before winning the title. Since then, she has traveled across the country advocating foster-care reform.

She said children should be able to learn where their biological siblings are living. She was separated from her brother as a toddler and did not know where he was until Christmas, 1993.

“He had been 20 minutes away from me my entire life,” she said. “Finding out was devastating.”

Miss Lopez said children should have the right to examine the files children services keeps on their lives. “It’s their life, after all,” she said.

Mr. Hollingsworth said children have that right in Lucas County.

Miss Lopez said her last foster parents were strict fundamentalist Christians. Because her birth mother was known to dabble in Satanic activity, she said they believed Miss Lopez might be a child of the Devil.