Your son was diagnosed with autism when he was three. You have managed fairly well so far with the help of early intervention programs and a special education director at school who was sympathetic and knowledgeable. At thirteen, however, your son has become very aggressive, primarily at home. After he attacked you physically for the third time in a week, you called the police who placed him in a psychiatric unit at the local general hospital. The psychiatrist referred him to the local board of developmental disabilities which denied eligibility because your son is “mentally ill, not mentally retarded.” The psychiatrist at the local mental health agency refuses services because autism is a developmental disability. The staff at your school has changed because of funding cutbacks. The new principal says they will not help because the behaviors are not recorded at school; it is not their problem. The police say that the next time your son attacks you, they will place him in a juvenile detention facility.
Now where do you turn for help? The description is hypothetical, but some variation of the story occurs with alarming frequency and led to the creation of Ohio’s Family and Children First Councils (FCFCs) at the local and state levels. The FCFCs are intended to work with families who have children with intensive needs but who do not fit neatly into a single system of care. Every county in Ohio has an FCFC. A State Cabinet Council of departments serving children provides state-wide coordination, oversight and resources.
Counties have different structures for implementing the FCFC mandates, especially in funding for children with complex needs. Some counties create a pool of funds which is used to fund services; others determine allocation of support on a case-by-case basis without a fixed pool. Most FCFC funding is short-term and designed to allow the local systems to devise and implement an adequate local support plan.
Each county is required to develop an FCFC, which must include representatives from a variety of entities within the county, including the major child services agencies, the largest municipality in the county, the County Commissioners, and representatives from families who have received services from the FCFC. A juvenile court judge acts as judicial advisor. RC 121.37(B)(1).
In general, a local FCFC must “streamline and coordinate existing services for families seeking services for their children.” RC 121.37(B)(2). Duties include reviewing needs of children with multiple needs and identifying resources to meet those needs. RC 121.37(B)(2)(a). If the local FCFC finds that a child’s needs cannot be met locally, the local FCFC must refer the matter to the State Cabinet Council. Ohio law specifically directs the county FCFCs to develop and implement a process “…that annually evaluates and prioritizes services, fills services gaps where possible, and invents new approaches to achieve better results for families and children.” RC 121.37(B)(2)(b).
The FCFC must designate an administrative agent which carries out the daily activities of the FCFC, including “financial stipends, reimbursements, or both, to family representatives for expenses related to council activity.” RC 121.37(B)(5)(a)(ii).
Local Dispute Resolution
Each FCFC must develop a local method for resolving disputes among members. RC 121.37(C)(9).
If agencies cannot agree on an intervention plan or funding allocation, the dispute can be referred to juvenile court. The juvenile court must issue an order “directing one or more agencies represented on the county council to provide services or funding for services to the child” based on the family service coordination plan and other evidence gathered in the process of review.
A family or custodian who is dissatisfied with the results of the FCFC process may initiate an appeal within the local FCFC. The FCFC must issue a ruling within 60 days after initiation of the dispute resolution process. RC 121.381. Services or funding must continue during the dispute resolution process. RC 121.382. The statute does not allow a family to appeal to Juvenile Court directly.
How to Access FCFC Services
In general, any one of the agencies which participates in the FCFC must make a referral. If you believe that the FCFC would be helpful, contact a case manager, support administrator or other person who can refer you to the representative on the FCFC. Your request for services should be clear about what your goals are for treatment and services and what attempts you made to get those services. If the FCFC agrees to review the matter, you should attend all meetings as requested with the FCFC representative or the full group. FCFCs often will fund only a short- term service plan or placement while more long-term resources are developed. You may be asked to contribute to the cost of care.