10/6/2018 8:00:00 PM 'A war at all levels' Community for Kids Town Hall Meeting calls for action
Jackson County Municipal Court Judge Mark Musick (second from right) is shown addressing those present for the Community for Kids Town Hall Meeting, held Monday, Oct. 1 in Holzer Medical Center-Jackson’s Community Education Room. Judge Musick was one of five panelists for the meeting, which was centered on sharing examples of why a Children Services levy is needed locally. Pictured from the left are JFS Business Manager Teri McGraw, CPS Supervisor Kristin Butts, Integrated Services for Behavioral Health representative Abbey McGee, Judge Musick and Juvenile/Probate Judge Stephen Michael. (Telegram Photo By Phillip Buffington)
(Editor's note: This is the second and final portion of a story regarding the recent Community for Kids Town Hall Meeting, which was held to discuss why a Children Services levy is needed in Jackson County.)
"If you all don't think this is a war at all levels, in everybody's department, you're kidding yourselves," said Jackson County Municipal Court Judge Mark Musick during the Monday, Oct. 1 Community for Kids Town Hall Meeting.
The judge was referring to the current situation involving at-risk children in the county coupled with issues like drug abuse, poverty and other traumatic events. Topics like this were in the limelight during the one-hour meeting, which was held in Holzer Medical Center-Jackson's Community Education Room and hosted by Jackson County Job and Family Services (JFS) Director Tammy Osborne-Smith and her staff.
Judge Musick was one of five total panelists for the meeting, with the others being JFS Business Manager Teri McGraw, Child Protective Services (CPS) Supervisor Kristin Butts, Integrated Services for Behavioral Health representative Abbey McGee and Juvenile/Probate Judge Stephen Michael. Also present for the meeting were Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher Regan, Wellston City Schools Superintendent Karen Boch, Jackson Superintendent Phil Howard, Sheriff Tedd Frazier, Wellston Mayor Connie Pelletier, Jackson Council President Eric Brown, Jackson City Councilman and Commissioner hopeful Jon Hensler, legislative aide to Speaker Ryan Smith Cameron Garczyk, Municipal Court staff, probation officers and others.
During his comments, Judge Musick shared a story from nearly a decade ago when he first took office, which has been dubbed "Operation Meth Mountain." He explained pickup trucks filled with law enforcement officers were tasked with venturing up a large hill to secure and dismantle an active "meth factory." According to Judge Musick, the scene was able to be cleared, but the entire site was contaminated. He said everyone present needed to be decontaminated via a fire hose on a night when temperatures were below freezing. Among those present at the scene that night were a number of children.
Judge Musick recalled one little girl in particular whom he said obviously had a broken arm that was later found to have gone untreated for at least three days. That young girl was ultimately taken to the emergency room and treated. However, the judge said within a week, that same little girl was found on the location of yet another meth lab bust on the outskirts of Wellston. It didn't end there either.
"It happened again a week after that," Judge Musick stated. "Same child, different lab hosts. I think about that whole thing and I hope that child got what she needed eventually."
Not helping those children in need, Judge Musick continued, will lead to the homogenization of all children.
"It's like the flu," he said. "You've got to help them or all of the kids will be exposed to at least some of these things."
Osborne-Smith stated that, according to a national survey, nearly half of all children in the U.S. report having experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives. In addressing McGee of Integrated Services for Behavioral Health, Osborne-Smith posed a question regarding local instances of the serious impact trauma can have on the mental and behavioral health of children.
McGee explained that she has worked in conjunction with JFS for the past 11 years, and that cases now are more complex than ever. She said trauma can begin before birth with exposure to drugs in the womb. Further, McGee said if a baby is not comforted, left crying for long periods, not fed and so on, the brain begins to develop a "different way of dealing with the world."
"It's unreal the impact it can have," McGee said. "Trauma occurs when something happens and it exceeds your ability to cope. It causes disruption and difficulty with emotional function. Most cases we see, especially with Children Services, have some level of that."
She added that trauma can also be any situation where one's life or bodily integrity is threatened. McGee also stated the human brain is very adaptive and can heal itself following trauma, though this takes time. So, if these traumas continue to occur in children, they are unable to heal properly and they tend to stay in the "startled reflex" with elevated blood pressure, sweating, and so on. Children in such a situation can be difficult behavior-wise, McGee said, as authority becomes a threat to them.
When the meeting's final panelist, Judge Michael, was set to take the floor, Osborne-Smith posed a question. She stated the Public Children Services Association of Ohio is forecasting that the state's Children Services system will explode if the opioid epidemic continues at its current pace. It is estimated, Osborne-Smith continued, to increase at a rate of 33 percent until 2020.
"In Jackson County alone, the number of children in care has doubled in the last five years, with a 90-percent increase in placement costs," Osborne-Smith said, addressing Judge Michael. "After hearing that projection and considering how it can be compounded by the number of children with delinquency issues, those in need of residential care, and behavioral and/or mental health treatment, how is our system going to effectively support abused and neglected children?"
Judge Michael began by saying that the system is not supporting these children, which he said is "part of the problem." Overall, he described the situation at-hand as a legislative/money issue.
"I can't answer your question," he continued. "I don't have enough resources to do what I know needs to be done in terms of placement. We can't support this kind of stuff, I don't care how rich we are. You can't have the kind of numbers that are true in Jackson County in Cleveland because you'd have 5,000 kids in placement with that same ratio. They'd mobilize the Army."
Judge Michael added that he and his employees are now sometimes dealing with as many as three child-related emergencies a day, which used to be the average for an entire year.
He also described the ongoing drug epidemic, as it relates to the involvement of children, as a women's issue.
"We used to get kids that were using and would have five boys with some girls hanging around, doing drugs socially to be in with the boys," Judge Michael explained. "Of course, when they would hang around long enough, someone would have a baby. The boys would wander off and the girl would enlist family to help raise the baby. Not anymore. Now they walk away with the boys. These drugs are so powerful that the support we used to have is gone. It's not five boys to two girls anymore either, it's six girls to four boys. That is enormous."
This coming general election will mark the third attempt for the proposed 10-year 1.5-mill additional tax levy for Children Services in Jackson County. If passed, this levy would provide approximately $861,173 for foster care placement costs and the direct care of children. Osborne-Smith has stated this levy would cost a homeowner $52.50 per year (based on every $100,000 in home value), which equates to around $1 a week or only $0.14 per day.
Those suspecting child abuse and/or neglect are urged to contact Jackson County CPS at (740) 688-4160.