Richland County commissioners proclaim April as Child Abuse Prevention Month

March 31, 2022

Richland County Commissioner Cliff Mears, joined by Children Services Executive Director Nikki Harless, reads a proclamation Thursday marking April as Child Abuse Prevention Awareness in the county.


MANSFIELD -- Richland County Children Services Executive Director Nikki Harless made it clear Thursday morning.


The public child welfare agency wants to help local families keep their own children in their own homes. Removing those children is always a last resort, she said.


"We work with a lot of families voluntarily, so we do a lot of prevention work," Harless said. "If we do get a report, we go out and investigate to see if they need services to keep the kids safe.


"We have 150 families voluntarily working with us every day," Harless said.


Harless and Brigitte Coles, the agency's community engagement specialist, met with county commissioners to launch National Child Abuse Prevention Month.


Harless went over 2021 agency statistics. RCCS caseworkers investigated 1,158 reports of child abuse -- 398 neglect, 325 physical abuse, 146 sexual abuse, 62 allegations of emotional maltreatment, 62 dependencies and 62 instances of families in need.


"(FINS) are when families (themselves) call in that might need help in meeting basic needs like with electric or rent," Harless said.


The total number of investigations during the year was down slightly from 2020, Harless said.


The agency also oversaw the successful adoption of 18 children in 2021 and took custody of 54 children through the court system.


"Today, we have 130 children in our care, in our custody, in foster homes and private foster homes and residential placements," Harless said.


Kirsten Pscholka-Gartner, the chief magistrate in the county's Domestic Relations Court, praised the work done by RCCS caseworkers.

"I just want to thank Children Services for all the work that they do with respect to child abuse prevention. Our court frequently makes referrals to Children Services out of protection orders," Pscholka-Gartner said.


"I believe that they do a great job in investigating those cases and looking out for the best interests of the children in the community," the magistrate said.


The event included a proclamation read in its entirety by Commissioner Cliff Mears.


"I am really glad to do this," Mears said. "This is such an important initiative."


Harless told commissioners the agency remains short staffed, requiring social workers and others to carry expanded caseloads. She said RCCS is budgeted for 50 caseworker positions and currently has eight openings, down from a high of 15 vacancies.


"If you know anyone who wants to work in child welfare, let me know," she said.

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