- 1 of 1 Photos | View More Photos
Standing on the frontline of Portage County's opioid crisis, Holly Spohn recalls her days with the Army National Guard standing guard over a U.S. military base in Iraq.
"This job is more stressful than a combat zone. It's intense," said the Portage County Children Services investigative caseworker. "You have children's lives at risk. When you're in a combat zone, you're responsible for yourself. When you go out to assess a house, when you leave, it's 'Did I miss something? Is that family or child at risk?' At the end of the day, you have a piece of the responsibility of protecting that child's life."
Spohn, who recently switched to working the child abuse and neglect hotline to avoid stress burnout, was one of roughly 60 caseworkers with the department. On average each investigator juggles a dozen cases. At times, Spohn said she would have as many as 50 open cases on her desk.
"From a child protective perspective, I feel like the public really has no idea what is going on in this crisis. When people think of child services they think what they see in the movies when they come and take the child, and that's a very small percentage of what we actually do," she said.
"If we can protect the child without removing them, then that's our first goal. But when you've got the heroin or serious drug use like meth or alcohol, it's so hard to get the family clean, even when they want to get clean, because they're stuck in that addiction and they can't get away. They'll try multiple times, some are successful after multiple attempts, some die before they even make it there."
Since the beginning of 2017, more than 80 kids have been taken into the custody or removed from a situation by PCCS. As of late April, PCCS had over 200 total children in its custody, with the majority removed from their living situation because of substance abuse issues.
"It's such a challenge when you remove children from parents," said Spohn, who's worked with the department for roughly 5 years. "I feel like a lot of times that send them on a spiral where they start using more because their child was removed and they can use that as an excuse. They don't have to worry about if the kid is being taken care of."
Portage County Job and Family Services Director Kellijo Jeffries said that in 2016, more than 3,831 calls were made to the department in response to child abuse and neglect situations, with 383 cases substantiated.
Spohn said she's witnessed fatalities, mothers dying during the course of the initial investigation and parents overdosing in their cars. She's conducted interviews with intoxicated or high parents.
"It's crazy when you're working with a family and then further on you read about their overdose and you were involved with the family previously," she said. "There's been a lot of difficult cases. There's been primary school children who can walk you through the process of shooting up. They can tell you how mom ties the arm off, puts the needle in and all of that. They're elementary school kids. It's mind blowing they can do that."
Having spent 12 years in the National Guard, Spohn said she's learned to control her emotions during intense situations, but also allows herself to feel empathetic to parents and children. That attitude often puts the parents at ease and lends trust, she said.
Initial investigations can last up to 60 days but are typically passed on after 30 days for ongoing services. And it's not just substance abuse cases, either. The investigators juggle cases related to domestic, sexual or physical abuse, neglect, lack of supervision, and chemical dependency.
"I'm always hopeful," she said. One of the groups Spohn likes to work with are those with chemical dependency problems because it's not about bad parenting or other issues; it's about removing the source of the addiction to prevent a relapse, she said.
"We don't have the power to go out and fix the situation but our hands are tied.. It takes time to assess the situation so as to not put the child at risk," she said. "People think we can just save the kids, but really, we don't have that power. Our job is to help the parents help their own children."
Jeffries said the services both JFS and PCCS provide are focused on reunified parents and children into a safe, secure and drug-free living situation.
"We're always the cheerleaders for the parents, we're always rallying with a wrap around. But we have to be very cautious that we don't send a child back prematurely when the parent is going to relapse. It has psychological impacts on those kids too, because most of the time those kids are cheerleading for their parents too," Jeffries said.
Before joining Children Services Spohn worked at the Portage County Juvenile Detention Center as a corrections officer while also working a warehouse job. She's also got degree in sociology and criminal justice studies from the University of Akron.
Working with Children Services has given her a new perspective on how to approach problems in her own life.
"It's hard to talk with friends or family and hear about their problems when all I want to say is 'You've got it easy. You don't even know what some people go through,'" she said. "At work, I'm always looking for that success story."
From above:.."This job is more stressful than a combat zone. It's intense,".....
To compare the level of stress working at Children Services to a combat zone, is a GROSS EXAGGERATION,....
*** Maybe the county should give employee's combat pay...?
In Vietnam the Army paid you an extra $65..00 a month combat pay...
That translated into an extra $2.17 a day..
Stated another way, the goverment paid us an extra $ .09 per hour to kill people....
*** U.S. Millitary killed in IRAQ so far 4520...
*** U.S. Millitary killed in Afganistan so far 2396...
*** Plus, thousands more wounded...
Any Stressors like that at Portage County Children Services...???