BATAVIA, Ohio - Foster care advocates gathered at UC Clermont College Thursday to develop strategies on how to improve the system for abused and neglected children.
The forum focused on lessons learned from the gruesome murder of Marcus Fiesel in 2006 by his foster parents David and Liz Carroll. Marcus was bound and left in a sweltering closet while the Carrolls went out of town.
"It really just gripped the heart of this community," said Pam Lindeman, director of Out of Home Care for Child Focus, Inc. "Never had we had first hand experience of an unbelievable tragedy and a failure really of our system to protect children."
Ohio foster care laws laws were revised in the years that followed Fiesel's death.
* FBI and BCI criminal background checks are now required before a foster parent can obtain a license.
* Daily background checks are conducted on licensed foster parents.
* The list of prohibited offenses for foster parents was expanded to include acts such as permitting child abuse, menacing by 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 week intervals.
* Certain information about foster parents, such as names,became public information.
Pat McCollum has been a foster parent for 23 years and cared for more than 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 on prior offenses is forcing many good foster parents to give up that role.
"I think what a person did 20 years ago shouldn't affect what they do today," she said. "They need to look at each case individually."
McCollum, who works though Lighthouse Youth Services, added she believes the rule should apply to foster parents and everyone working with children.
Jami Clarke, the Lighthouse Therapeutic Foster Care Program Director, said there are pros and cons to the changes.
"Overall, it's good," she said. "There's more support for foster parents. We provide more training."
Clarke said one of the biggest lessons learned from the Fiesel case is to make sure prospective foster parents meet all guidelines and are 100 percent committed to the program.
Another was making sure face-to-face home visits are regularly conducted to ensure that the needs of all children are met.
In the Fiesel case visits were made, but on one occasion, the social worker was told Marcus was too ill to be seen. Authorities later believed the child was already dead at that point.
The Lighthouse staff is now required to check on the welfare of the child during each visit.
"It's not just a quick check," Clarke said. "We need to work with families when the children have special needs."
All those lessons learned formed the foundation of Thursday's gathering, which is sponsored by the UC Clermont Human Social Service and Paralegal Programs.
* Anita Bechmann -- a Public Defender who works with the Clermont County Juvenile Court
* Erica Boller -- Supervisor of the Foster Care Unit with Clermont 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 Mental Health and Recovery Board
* Holly Schlaack -- Author and Child Care Advocate
Schlaack provided background details of the Fiesel case to the 100 members in the audience before the panel members focused on the future.
Lindeman said more emphasis has to be placed on the special needs of a foster child, especially mental health services.
"Our children in foster care are very vulnerable," she said. "We need 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 more communication between agencies and members of the community.
"I believe every individual in the community needs to become involved with neighbors. Schools need to be vigilant about they concerns they have. Agencies need to be vigilant about following up and communication needs to be open among all agencies," Bechmann stated.
List pointed out that citizens can volunteer to assist foster care groups, help provide items for foster families or speak publicly to help create more awareness about child abuse and neglect.