New bed space for teens in crisis to open soon on Cleveland's west side

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Posted at 5:28 PM, Nov 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-16 18:39:15-05

CLEVELAND — Cuyahoga County has a placement problem in the child welfare system.

It is not just a problem here at home, but across the state, and is especially pronounced among teenagers who are more difficult to place.

Those closest to the problem say there is a shortage of foster families, social workers and temporary beds, and more kids have been coming into the system in recent years.

Here at home, things really came to a head over concerns about how long these young people in custody are staying at a county office building.

However, work is underway right now to help make things better, but one mother worries it may still not be enough.

"I'm watching him fade away from who he was," said Cheryl Zinter.

She is talking about her 15-year-old son.

She adopted him as a baby and says he's now battling severe behavioral and mental health issues.

Zinter says he's spent time at the Jane Edna Hunter Social Services Center in downtown Cleveland and in juvenile detention.

"I believe that there isn't a suitable location for our most critical children," said Zinter.

She says she's fighting for not only more placement options for all kids, but also more treatment beds for children like her son who have extreme needs.

"Something worse is always going to happen because they're not able to climb out of their mental illness on their own," she said. "We have to help them. If we can't, we have to at least make sure they are safe, and society is safe. We all can do something to help the children because even if they are experiencing mental health problems every child should feel valued."

Teenagers in the custody of Cuyahoga County have been experiencing delays in placement. There's been much concern about hard-to-place teens staying an extended amount of time at the Jane Edna Hunter Building. It is a story News 5 has been following for several years.

RELATED: Kids found living inside Cuyahoga County office building

In July, two employees with the Division of Children and Family Services, who work the hotline there for abuse and neglect, spoke before county council and pleaded for help and alleged dangerous conditions for kids and workers.

"No one is helping us. No one is listening to us," said one woman.

"We are struggling really, really bad," said another.

"That was a critical point," said Jacqueline Fletcher, interim director of DCFS.

In an interview this week, she said they've made some changes and progress.

"I am very hopeful. I think we're trending in the right direction," she said.

Fletcher says they've increased pay to try and recruit more workers and bolstered on-site safety by adding a sheriff's deputy on-site 24/7 in addition to the protective service officers.

She says kids will always be at Jane Edna Hunter. She said typically it's a 24-hour turnaround, but they don't want the teens spending extended nights there.

"We're trying to be flexible, come together, and figure out what each system needs, what do families need, because ultimately it's about our children -- what do they need," she said.

One of the solutions is being built right now on Cleveland's west side.

It will provide new bed space to help with the placement crisis for teens in county custody.

"I think early next year is when we'll be fully operational," said Eric Morse, President and CEO of The Centers.

The Centers has a long history of helping people in Cuyahoga County, and will now provide residential care for young people ages 12 to 18.

"The premise is that in the short time they’re waiting for their placement what they need is the softest landing possible," said Morse.

Cuyahoga County Council recently passed emergency legislation to provide The Centers with about $10 million to open the bed space.

It is called T-Suites, which stands for teen suites.

Morse says it’s a unique approach they’re calling a 5-star, private hotel for teens.

There will be beds for eight, which Morse says is what the county has told them is about the average maximum they have at one time. Morse says they anticipate serving up to 100 teens a year.

"I think the most unique thing we’re bringing to this is that we proposed basically a one-to-one ratio of staff to kids. So, every kid who comes through the door will have one person per shift, and that’s their person.”

Morse says they’re hiring at least 40 positions and are about halfway there.

He says they’re offering high wages to attract the best people, but it’s been tough because this work isn’t easy.

"It's messy. It’s difficult, It’s complicated," said Morse.

However, it's important, not just for children, but for society, he says.

"In the current system, this is what’s driving and leading to homelessness, or leading to over-incarceration," said Morse. "Those things don’t just happen. They happen because of what’s happened to a kid over the course of their life, and really, the ways that we’ve failed them as a system, as a community, as a society. So, I would just call on people to be part of a solution.”

T-Suites is being built new in a wing at Cleveland Christian Home, which The Centers has now partnered with. Morse says there's room on the campus to open more bed space potentially in the future.

If you're interested in becoming a foster parent, here are some helpful links.

Experts say supporting agencies that support foster families and kids are also good ways to help.

November is National Adoption Month. Cuyahoga County DFCS says they’re proud to say they’ve finalized the adoptions of 145 kids so far this year. They say that's on track to meet or exceed the numbers from previous years.

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