Our proud history

From Orphans to Abused and Neglected Kids, the Need for a Home

In 1883, Richland County provided child protective services under the direction of the Richland County Child Welfare Board. At that time, the agency built a Children's Home near the current site of the Unity Pool for the purpose of caring for dependent children.

Children who lived there were called "inmates" and they performed chores connected with the farm and dairy cows that the Home maintained. Many of the children in care were orphans and the children of indigent parents who could no longer care for them. In the 1950's, a greater emphasis on child abuse and neglect and changes in Ohio law led to an increase in agency size and the beginning of "foster family care". The stage was set for a new emphasis on caring for children in the most home-like setting available to each child. Yet, even as foster care expanded rapidly, the need for residential care continued, and in the 1960's the Children's Home was demolished and Downs Residence Hall opened.

Meeting the Social Problems of the Family in the 60's, 70's, and 80's

For 30 years, the care of children evolved as the needs and problems of children intensified. In the 1970's, two group homes opened to serve adolescent girls and boys. As more and more children were taken into custody with serious to profound emotional and behavioral problems, the agency made increasing use of highly specialized residential placements and the care children received at Downs Residence Hall and the group homes became more psychological and behavioral in orientation. Staff training and supervision became more rigorous. The services of staff were supplemented by those of psychiatrists and psychologists. The agency became one of the very few public children services to have its own Medicaid approved residential facility.

During the same period of time, case management services and agency abuse and neglect investigation were shaped by the introduction of formal written case plans, increasingly sophisticated ways of assessing a child's risk for abuse and neglect, and an emphasis on safety planning. A child sexual abuse investigation team was created. Increased cooperation between children services and law enforcement led to joint investigations and the establishment of a deputy sheriff's position to handle sexual abuse and very severe physical abuse complaints. Drug and alcohol issues became identified as key issues in many families and court-ordered drug testing became a standard practice.

New Tools for Working with Children and Families

Even as the increasingly severe problems of children and families were producing a stronger mental health services orientation in local residential placement, as shift to more family-based treatment was also beginning to occur. In the late 80's, Ohio law created the option of "Protective Supervision" orders by which courts could formally order a family to comply with the agency's case plan services. In addition, the notions of "Home-Based" services and "Family Preservation" began to influence child welfare practice. Agency resources were shifted to working intensively with families to keep children out of placements. The agency's team of Family Preservation social workers was established in 1990 and was based in the parsonage of the First Christian Church at Third and Bowman Streets in Mansfield. Available by pager 24 hours per day and seven days per week and armed with a budget for the purchase of numerous practical supports for struggling families, this team helped families take control over their circumstances and make aggressive use of therapy and other services. With highly concentrated case work supports, many families were able to stabilize and keep their children at home.

In the mid 90's, growing uncertainties about the success rate of residential placements and concerns over the increasingly high cost of residential treatment led to a push for more creative uses of limited mental health and care dollars. Numerous foster homes became treatment foster homes, completing special training in such skills as first aid, crisis management and behavioral management. State and federal resources were made available to communities and agencies to find ways to provide help for children in their own homes, to get them home more quickly when they needed to go into temporary placements and to provide more and more treatment services in foster homes rather than in residential treatment facilities. At the same time, federal law reduced to one year being the amount of time given to abusive and neglectful parents to deal with drug and alcohol problems. Stress was laid on quickly mobilizing services to families so that courts could more rapidly decide whether a child had a reasonable hope of reunification or whether adoption was more in the child's best interest.

Setting the Stage to Implement an Old Ideal

In 2000, at the request of the agency, more community mental health therapists began providing in-home counseling and behavioral therapies. In early 2003, several Richland County children and family serving agencies entered into a joint contract with a local mental health service provider to deliver very tightly controlled home-based therapies designed for the most severely troubled youth and families. The stage was set for a much more significant move to implement the spirit of the "least restrictive, most homelike" approach to caring for troubled children.

Downs Residential was closed; ushering in an era of home based and foster home based care even for severely troubled youth. Staff who were employed in our residential facilities were re-positioned to provide practical supports to families caring for difficult to manage youth. Additional staff have been assigned to provide supports to treatment services and school adjustment.

As we prepare for the future, the agency continues a tradition of constantly seeking the best solutions to the needs of abused, neglected, and dependent children and their families.