It has been the subject of protests, demonstrations and listening tours over the past six months but reform is coming to the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services.
On Wednesday the Cuyahoga County Council passed numerous components of the reforms that were recommended by an independent expert panel assembled following the death of Aniya Day-Garrett, the 4-year-old girl from Euclid who had a case history at DCFS.
Social workers from DCFS had three prior investigations into alleged abuse against Aniya. However, in each one of those cases, DCFS officials said there was not enough cause to remove the girl from the home.
On March 11 Euclid police found Aniya’s lifeless body and took her mother, Sierra Day, and her mother’s boyfriend, Deonte Lewis in custody. Both have since been charged with murder. Aniya’s cause of death was listed as blunt force trauma to the head, which caused a stroke.
Aniya’s death led to protests and a growing chorus calling for change at DCFS. In response to the public outcry, County Executive Armond Budish appointed a panel of child welfare experts. The panel later recommended a series of changes at DCFS.
Chief among those changes were the creation of an advisory board that would oversee DCFS. Additionally, more caseworkers would be hired, in addition to the employment of retired police officers who would help with investigations. County council approved the appropriation of $1.6 million in funding to cover the costs of hiring additional personnel at DCFS on Wednesday.
The additional staff will help reduce caseload. In an interview with News 5 two weeks after Aniya’s death, DCFS Director Cynthia Weiskittel said reducing caseload was a priority.
“I would have staff with lower caseloads. I would make sure… we provide support for secondary trauma,” Weiskittel said. “But we cannot underestimate the impact that this has on staff.”
The advisory board that will be created will consist of up to 10 people that will be appointed by the county executive. The board’s duties will include providing feedback and independent oversight of the agency. The board will also provide updates to the county executive, in addition to the Health, Human Services and Aging Committee.
Board members will serve a term of up to 4 years.
As part of the independent panel’s recommendations, changes to DCFS also include assigning cases to social workers based on geography in an effort to cut down on travel time. Additionally, new caseworkers will pair up with more experienced caseworkers for up to six months before they can handle a case on their own.