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Friday, March 3rd, 2017

Official requests area for visitation between parents, their children

By William Kincaid
CELINA - Mercer County Job and Family Services Director Angela Nickell this week pleaded with county commissioners to allow her to use a storage room for supervised, court-mandated visitations between parents and children.
The department now uses a small, square room in the Mercer County Central Services Building that Nickell said is cramped and inadequate for many reasons.
It's difficult for some parents to interact, bond with and hold their children's attention for up to two hours in the insufficiently furnished room. Furthermore, the children are essentially put on display when other people come to the department seeking benefits or other services.
"Just right there on top of them we have these children who are in distress. So that's why we're looking for an area close to JFS but right there that we can kind of segregate our children that we're working with, our families that we're working with," Nickell said.
Nickell proposed using a storage room located in the basement across the hall from the main offices.
"We could keep our doors open, keep people secure and then be able to interact with them and teach them to bond with their children," she said. "When we have a bigger area for our visitation center, we want to be able to bring in meals and to encourage people to bring in meals and to help cook."
She would like to use about 1,200 square feet or a 25-feet-by-48-feet section of the room, which is being used for storage by several other departments.
Nickell also wants to buy an indoor jungle gym and safety mat, a swing set and a table and chairs. She also would like to set aside space for children to do their homework.
She tentatively estimated the cost at $5,000.
"It would pretty much fill up that area but I think it would be a very inviting appearance, and it's nothing permanent," she said.
Nickell said she would use movable walls as she realizes the county has numerous space and storage needs among its various departments.
Commissioner Jerry Laffin said he likes the idea but noted many storage concerns exist. The room in question is used by numerous departments, commissioners said.
Commissioner Greg Homan suggested Nickell talk with department heads about her ideas for the room. Her plans might change their perceptions about what they really need, he added.
No action was taken.
Mercer County voters on Election Day approved a new Department of Job and Family Services tax levy to help pay for operating and capital improvement expenditures to support children's services.
The department's 0.4-mill, 10-year levy passed with 58.76 percent or 12,116 votes. It was opposed by 8,531 voters.
The levy will generate $438,969 annually and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $14 a year, according to Mercer County Auditor Randy Grapner.
The top priority for the new revenue will be to cover placement-related costs, Nickell said in November.
However, tax collections won't begin rolling in until later this year, so commissioners have set aside additional money in this year's budget.
One of the biggest increases in general fund appropriations this year was noted in the county's children services and public assistance account, which was budgeted at $123,534 - up $39,270 or 46.6 percent percent from last year.
Any unused portion will go back into the general fund next year.
Citing an alarming spike in the number of dysfunctional families in the county, Nickell and social service administrator Jason Cupp made their case for a levy to finance enhanced children's services as well as building improvements.
Job and Family Services intervenes in households when contacted about concerns of abuse and/or neglect of children. Sometimes children are assigned to kinship care with a relative or family friend, foster care or a residential center until they can be reunited with their biological parents.
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