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Program wins recognition, becomes model statewide

August 03, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

A Franklin County program to share information among agencies dealing with children and families is drawing recognition statewide.

Three years ago, the county commissioners and the county's judges got together and decided that two agencies dealing with child welfare - Franklin County Children & Youth and Family Services, and the Juvenile Probation Department - should start working together.

The system has been working so well it is becoming a statewide model and has won a prestigious state award, said Doug Price, administrator of human services for the county.

The agency operates out of offices at 425 Franklin Farm Lane in Chambersburg.

Before the joint agreement, Children, Youth and Family Services came under the supervision of the county commissioners. The agency deals with abused, battered and neglected children and other child welfare cases. Juvenile Probation, which was under the court system, handles juvenile delinquency cases.

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The county hired Douglas N. Amsley to direct both agencies. He works for Price.

When the commissioners and the judges looked at the situation three years ago, there was an opening for the position of director of Children & Youth and Family Services, Price said.

It seemed like a good time to make the change, Price said.

"They saw an opportunity for more consistency," he said.

"A lot of families have children being served by both agencies," Amsley said. "Now we can deal with the families more holistically. Now they can work with just one agency."

Case workers deal with families in which parents don't provide adequate supervision, with families in which there are sexual and physical abuse problems, and with cases in which homes are dirty and not fit for children, he said.

They also deal with cases involving babies being shaken. There were three in Franklin County last year, Amsley said.

In some situations, case workers answering complaints go to homes with police officers, he said.

The agency does not take children from homes.

"We make recommendations to the court and the court decides if a child should be removed," Amsley said.

One benefit of the joint system is judges learn to trust the judgment of case workers, he said.

The staffs of both agencies received cross-training to im-prove coordination, he said.

Price decides in cases where there are disagreements between the agencies. If he can't resolve a disagreement, it goes to the president judge and county commissioners for resolution.

Last month, the Pennsylvania Association of County Human Services Administrators presented Franklin County with an innovations award for its joint management agreement.

According to a press release from the state association, "The joint management of both offices has resulted in better coordination of services, particularly for those families involved with both departments or whose needs or circumstances require them to move from one department to the other."

The press release also said the joint agreement has "promoted more holistic services for families that can emphasize prevention and early intervention."

County Judge Richard Walsh, Assistant County Solicitor Cassandra Rahauser, Price and Amsley presented a workshop to the state association describing how the joint system works in Franklin County.

Two other Pennsylvania counties, Clinton and Columbia, have similar joint programs but on a smaller scale, Amsley said.

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