Athens County Children Services hosts Family Mentor Programs

By Catherine Muscaro

September 13, 2017

Representatives from Cuyahoga and Richland counties spoke on Sept. 7 to Athens County Children Services about two pilot projects set to launch in Athens and surroundings areas.

The special in-service educated ACCS members about the H.O.P.E. (Helping Ohio Parent Effectively) Project and Ohio S.T.A.R.T. (Sobriety, Treatment, and Recovery from Trauma) and featured two groups of panelists. The three panelists to speak first were known as “Primary Parent Partners” - those who successfully reunified with their children after working with child services and now act as peer counselors to those currently in the program.

The purpose of Primary Parent Partners, according to panelist leader Renee Saunders of Cuyahoga County, is to “really cut through the nitty-gritty” and give parents in the program an honest overview about the goals of child services and its case workers.

Rhonda Mays, a Primary Parent Partner at the West Side Human Resource Network in Cuyahoga County, echos this message. She said this program allows her to help parents understand things she didn’t understand when she had an open case.

“I got to sit on both sides of the table,” Mays said, “and I learned to trust what the social worker was saying.”

Another relatable component of most cases is addiction, and Primary Parent Partners have often had their own struggles with substance abuse, like Richland County Representative, Arlana Strictland. After four open cases, two overdoses, nine trips to rehab, and the belief that she was going “to die an addict,” Strictland has turned her life around in the last two years. She encourages other parents to do the same by being a 12-step program facilitator.

“Recovery is my life,” Strictland passionately expressed, stating that her goal every day is to remind herself and others to “live in recovery, and wake up, and like yourself.”

The tremendous success of H.O.P.E.’s Primary Parent Partners program, as well as Ohio S.T.A.R.T., is not only attributed to the parents involved; it is also linked to the tireless effort of its employees: Kinship Navigator Brianne Kindinger from Richland County, and Cuyahoga County representatives Senior Social Services Supervisor Selina Dublin and Family Advocate Alesia Hankins.

Kindinger works faces the difficult choice between placing children with family members and close friends or in a foster home. Children obviously adjust far better when living in a familiar space with someone they know. However, parents will often use this as an excuse to continue the behaviors or habits that brought them to the attention of child services in the first place; and parents struggling with addiction know that when their child is with a loved one, they are safe and that the family member will likely allow them to see the child.

Jeffrey Mays, a Cuyahoga County Representative for Primary Parent Partners, agreed, referring to the time his sister had custody of his children and how it allowed him to focus solely on his addiction. He said the minute his kids returned home, it was “time to go get high.”

However, after 16 years of sobriety alongside his wife Rhonda, his life now focuses on his family and helping others like him. His opinion of child services has also changed.

“I used to say [child services] took my kids, but now I say [they] saved my kids.”

The overall message representatives from both counties sent was a positive one; As Rhonda Mays said, “some families can and do change;” and the ACCS is looking forward to being a part of that change.

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