BATAVIA, Ohio - Foster care advocates gathered at UC Clermont College Thursdayto develop strategies on how to improve the system for abused andneglected children.
The forum focused on lessons learned from the gruesome murder ofMarcus Fiesel in 2006 by his foster parents David and Liz Carroll.Marcus was bound and left in a sweltering closet while the Carrollswent out of town.
"It really just gripped the heart of this community," said PamLindeman, director of Out of Home Care for Child Focus, Inc. "Neverhad we had first hand experience of an unbelievable tragedy and afailure really of our system to protect children."
Ohio foster care laws laws were revised in the years thatfollowed Fiesel's death.
* FBI and BCI criminal background checks are now required beforea foster parent can obtain a license.
* Daily background checks are conducted on licensed fosterparents.
* The list of prohibited offenses for foster parents wasexpanded to include acts such as permitting child abuse, menacingby stalking, cruelty to animals and repeated drunk driving.
* Training requirements were increased from 20 to 36 hours.
* Face-to-face home visits were mandated at two weekintervals.
* Certain information about foster parents, such as names,became public information.
Pat McCollum has been a foster parent for 23 years and cared forover 60 children in need.
"I think children need to grow up in a nurturing, loving home,"she said.
However, McCollum said she is concerned that the new rule onprior offenses is forcing many good foster parents to give up thatrole.
"I think what a person did 20 years ago shouldn't affect whatthey do today," she said. "They need to look at each caseindividually."
McCollum, who works though Lighthouse Youth Services, added shebelieves the rule should apply to foster parents and everyone whois working with children.
Jami Clarke, the Lighthouse Therapeutic Foster Care ProgramDirector, said there are pros and cons to the changes.
"Overall, it's good," she said. "There's more support for fosterparents. We provide more training."
Clarke said one of the biggest lessons learned from the Fieselcase is to make sure prospective foster parents meet all guidelinesand are 100 percent committed to the program.
Another was making sure face-to-face home visits are regularlyconducted to ensure that the needs of all children are met.
In the Fiesel case visits were made, but on one occasion, thesocial worker was told Marcus was too ill to be seen. Authoritieslater believed the child was already dead at that point.
The Lighthouse staff is now required to check on the welfare ofthe child during each visit.
"It's not just a quick check," Clarke said. "We need to workwith families when the children have special needs."
All those lessons learned formed the foundation of Thursday'sgathering, which is sponsored by the UC Clermont Human SocialService and Paralegal Programs.
* Anita Bechmann -- a Public Defender who works with theClermont County Juvenile Court
* Erica Boller -- Supervisor of the Foster Care Unit withClermont County Children's Protective Services
* Amanda List -- CASA for Clermont Kids
* Tom Flessa -- Clermont County Prosecutor's Office
* Pan Lindeman -- Out of Home Care Director, Child Focus,Inc.
* Karen Scherra -- Executive Director, Clermont County MentalHealth and Recovery Board
* Holly Schlaack -- Author and Child Care Advocate
Schlaack provided background details of the Fiesel case to the100 members in the audience before the panel members focused on thefuture.
Lindeman said more emphasis has to be placed on the specialneeds of a foster child, especially mental health services.
"Our children in foster care are very vulnerable," she said. "Weneed to do a better job of focusing on that care."
One theme that came up again and again is that "it takes avillage to raise a foster child." That, said Bechmann, means morecommunication between agencies and members of the community.
"I believe every individual in the community needs to becomeinvolved with neighbors. Schools need to be vigilant about theyconcerns they have. Agencies need to be vigilant about following upand communication needs to be open among all agencies," Bechmannstated.
List pointed out that citizens can volunteer to assist fostercare groups, help provide items for foster families or speakpublicly to help create more awareness about child abuse andneglect.