Kathy Oliver among local JFS directors praised by Gov. DeWine

By Sheri Trusty, Seneca County Media Relations Coordinator


During his State of the State address on April 10, Governor Mike DeWine recognized a group of Department of Job & Family Services directors for their efforts to improve foster care in Northwest Ohio. DeWine honored Director Kathy Oliver from Seneca County, Director Stephanie Kowal from Ottawa County, Director Jason Fagen from Wyandot County and Director Melanie Allen from Sandusky County for the creation of the collaborative, multicounty Northwest Ohio Treatment Foster Care Program.

Seneca County JFS Director Kathy Oliver was among the group of JFS leaders who were praised by Gov. Mike DeWine for their innovative work in foster care. Shown here are, from left, Oliver, Gov. DeWine and First Lady Fran DeWine. (Submitted photo)

Prior to the creation of the program, the four-county area lacked sufficient treatment foster homes for children with complex needs, including behavioral, mental health or physical challenges. Today, the program’s staff work with currently licensed foster family homes to upgrade them to therapeutic homes. The cost to license and supervise treatment foster homes is expensive and cost prohibitive for a single county outside a metropolitan area. By joining together, the four counties can share costs and resources, which can open the door for more local treatment foster homes.

Without local treatment homes, foster children are sent out of their school district and sometimes out of state. Long-distance placement disconnects children from family, friends and schools that are familiar to them. It also burdens the home county with high placement costs.

The Mental Health Services Board of Seneca, Ottawa, Sandusky & Wyandot Counties (MHRSB) supports the program with funding and resources. MHRSB Executive Director Mircea Handru is proud of the program’s success, which has drawn the attention of JFS agencies across the state.

“It was a simple idea, and now it’s being copied across the State of Ohio,” Handru said.

The program also caught the attention of the governor, who praised the JFS directors and their teams during his State of the State address.

Gov. Mike DeWine praised local JFS directors for their work supporting foster care. Shown here are, from left, Ottawa County JFS Director Stephanie Kowal; Northwest Ohio Treatment Foster Care Program Lead, Jenni Zaika; Gov. DeWine; First Lady Fran DeWine; Sandusky County JFS Director Melanie Allen; and Seneca County JFS Director Kathy Oliver. (Submitted photo)

“There is great work going on right now in Northwest Ohio, where Sandusky, Seneca, Ottawa and Wyandot Counties have partnered together to recruit foster parents specifically to help children with the most complex needs.  Not only have they saved money, but they have also created the opportunity for children to remain in a home with a family,” DeWine said. “Thank you for your innovative work.”

DeWine said a new state pilot program will replicate the program across the state. He said the new program will provide “one-on-one support for families; 24/7 on-call casework and crisis counseling; and specialized training, so that children with complex behavioral needs can stay in a home with a loving family that can remain actively involved in the treatment process.”

Oliver was overwhelmed by the recognition.

“I am humbled and honored to represent our agency and our staff that work on improving outcomes for children in foster care by developing treatment foster homes,” she said. “Treatment foster homes allow children to remain close to their schools, community and family rather than being placed in settings further away from them.”

Seneca County Commissioners Anthony Paradiso, Bill Frankart and Tyler Shuff are grateful for the work Oliver and her team is doing to help vulnerable children in Seneca County.

“This program started right here in Seneca County and is now being copied across the state, where it can impact thousands of children,” Frankart said. “We are very proud of Kathy and her team.”