By JIM MAURER
Diana Hoover, director of the Hancock County Department of Job and Family Services, will end a 31-year career at the agency when she retires Dec. 31.
The decision to retire came, she said, because she was eligible. It was not prompted by a levy defeat in the spring.
But the next director will face big financial challenges.
Hancock County voters turned down a 1.2-mill property tax in May which would have generated about $2.3 million a year for 10 years to fund child protective services, adult protective services, and child care programs overseen by the department.
Instead of another levy try in November, the Hancock County commissioners decided to make monthly payments to the department for the remainder of this year.
Hoover has said the agency’s funding needs are “critical” as the department continues to protect children, “our most vulnerable population.”
The high cost of foster care for children, combined with the number, complexity and length of such placements, has pinched the agency’s budget for children’s services. The county is required to fund the expense.
“This is not a new problem,” she said about the lack of funding. “We’ve looked at a few things. We’ve done a lot of advocating with the state of Ohio for more funding, because in child welfare, Ohio is 50th in the nation in what they contribute. So that is something we need to continue to advocate (for) as a state, (that) we support abused and neglected children.”
The lack of state funding puts the burden on local sources, she said.
That could prompt “consideration of another levy, or being part of a sales tax or some other form of county funds,” she said.
“The other thing we would look at is ways to keep our placement costs down by having more kids go with relatives when they can,” she said.
Also, children could stay closer to home. Some of the children are special needs and they are sent far away. The placement costs for those children “are very, very high so the more we can work with (keeping) the kids in the community, that helps.”
The agency is looking into possibly being part of a state pilot program for child placement with relatives, she said.
“Child welfare has been my passion,” Hoover said, “and trying to make sure abused and neglected children are taken care of in this community.
“I don’t think we can keep funding it at the level it has been, because that’s the level of 15-20 years ago. I do think we need to think about that, if we want to protect children in the county.”
The county has a population of 72,000 and only 12 people doing child welfare work.
“You have to have people available” to enforce the rules and keep the children safe, Hoover said.
“A lot of people don’t realize what Job and Family Services does,” Hoover said.
There are four main areas: family assistance; workforce (the Ohio Means Jobs program); child support enforcement; and child protective services.
Most of the funding comes from federal and state sources.
She said her department offers a variety of other programs to assist county residents.
“A lot of the people we see are short-term, where they come in and they need to get back on their feet,” she said.
“A lot of people will say, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ I’ll say, ‘If you need help, take it, and when you can give help, give it.’ That’s what the agency is here for, people who need help.”
The agency’s Comprehensive Case Management and Employment Program is for 14- to 24-year-olds and assists with finding employment.
Under a kinship program, relatives raising children, who do not receive foster care money, can contact the department for clothing, car seats, transportation, legal fees and “anything they need to keep a child in their home.”
There is a 90-day transportation program for individuals who need to get to a job, need car repairs, need to take driver’s education, secure a driver license, or need infant car seats or day care funds so they can go to work. The department contracts for the services.
“We develop services to help people become self-sufficient,” she said.
Ohio Means Jobs is located in an adjacent building. It provides a resource room and has software for developing and printing a resume.
There is a nine-county “call center” known as Collaborate, which allows individuals to complete a benefit application by phone, with no waiting for an appointment. Last year, the call center handled about 179,000 calls. The information can be shared between departments.
Now in its eighth year, the shared-service concept of the call center was the first statewide, she said.
In Hancock County, one in four residents utilizes the agency’s services monthly, she said.
“It is a very, very busy place.”
Her career began with a degree in social work from Bowling Green State University. The Findlay native then spent several years operating a daycare center.
She took a caseworker position with the child services division in 1987. She became a supervisor in 1989, spent 26 years as an administrator, a year as assistant director, and the past four years as director.
The Hancock County commissioners have extended a job offer to her possible replacement and are awaiting an answer.
She will be active in retirement, Hoover said.
Her hobbies include kayaking on the Blanchard River, tending a flower garden, cooking, traveling and photography.
“I’ve always had a nice balance of work and pleasure,” she said, “because I think this job is so stressful that I think you need to do things that aren’t work.”