Westerville News & Public Opinion

After jogger killed in Blendon Township, agency watered down its standards

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A state investigation of a foster-youth outing that police say led to the killing of a Blendon Township jogger found just one minor staffing violation by the operator of the group home where the teenage suspect lived.

The operator, Consumer Support Services, responded with a proposal that not only clarifies its staff-to-youth ratios but also allows the agency to lower those standards. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services approved it last month.

“I guess logic is optional,” Blendon Township resident John McGuire said when told of the report.

The agency would still be within state standards, and the change won’t affect the group home where the foster youth lived — department spokesman Benjamin Johnson said that home, on Copenhagen Drive in Blendon Township, closed on Nov. 19. But Consumer Support Services operates other homes in Ohio that could be covered by the new ratios.

The state summary cited Consumer Support Services for one instance of noncompliance, saying the staff-member-to-child ratio was 1-to-2 on Oct. 20, the day of the slaying.

Township police say 16-year-old Jordan T. Stewart and another resident left the group home for an outing on Oct. 20. One staff member was supervising both teens.

“This particular ratio is lower than the 2 to 4 as outlined in the agency’s policy,” the report says.

Asked why the state would describe one ratio as lower when mathematically they are equal, Johnson said all ratios have to be spelled out exactly in the agencies’ state-approved plans.

In its response to the state investigation, Consumer Support Services noted that 2-to-4 is the same as 1-to-2 or 4-to-8. The agency then proposed changing its minimum requirement, saying it will strive to maintain a staff-to-child ratio of 2-to-4 (or the mathematical equivalent) during all recreation and leisure activities, but the ratio could sometimes be one staff member to four youths.

Johnson said state-licensed agencies can amend their policies as long as they meet state requirements. “A facility of this type must maintain a staff-to-child ratio of no more than 1 employee to 10,” he said. “As long as they’re within that, they are complying with the state rule."

A phone call to Consumer Support Services was not returned.

Stewart, who lived with two other foster youths at the group home, faces a delinquency charge of murder in the death of Jane E. Juergens, 55, who had gone for a run in the township’s Ridgewood Park.

The killing prompted Franklin County Children Services to review all of its group-home placements. Legislation introduced last month by state Rep. Anne Gonzales, a Westerville Republican, would require group homes to develop “community-engagement plans” to improve communication with neighbors. It also calls for a 10-county pilot effort to sharpen and standardize the assessments of children and teens entering the child-welfare system.

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