CLEVELAND (WJW) — Fighting, weapons, assaults on staff members.

Social workers rallied, calling for safety changes inside the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services.

Many nights, troubled children sleep on cots inside the agency’s downtown headquarters, often wreaking havoc. It’s a problem the FOX 8 I-Team has been investigating for years.

Dozens of social workers and other employees of the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services rallied Wednesday afternoon in front of the Jane Edna Hunter Social Services Building downtown, demanding safer working conditions.

“We have had objects thrown, we’ve had staff threatened, we’ve had staff injured, we’ve had staff hospitalized,” said R. Sean Grayson, president of AFSCME Ohio Council 8.

Grayson says since January 2022, there have been 60 incidents of violence against staff.

“I am emotional because I care about these children,” said social worker Yvette Helms.

Staff members say on any night there could be anywhere from zero to more than a dozen foster kids who spend at least one night here in two child care rooms in the downtown office headquarters.

When the juvenile detention center will not hold them, there’s nowhere else for them to go.

“They run in and out of this building all day, all night … they hang out at Tower City, they come back intoxicated and they assault my co-workers,” Helms said.

For several years, the FOX 8 I-Team has reported on conditions inside the building. Video of fighting, children attacking social workers, even an 11-year old caught with a loaded gun.

“She grabbed me by the back of the hair and pushed me straight to the ground and jumped on top of me, punched, kicked,” said former social worker Carrie Ward.

Ward ended up beaten and bruised after she says a 17-year old girl attacked her in May 2019, upset she had her cell phone. That was Ward’s last day on the job.

WJW photo

Current social worker Joseph Shepherd tells a similar story, when he was attacked by an 11-year old girl.

“I’m not here to bash them, they are trying, they’re doing their best, but there needs to be a lot more intervention,” Shepherd said.

“The kids that we’re talking about today represent one percent of the kids that we deal with,” said Director Jacqueline Fletcher.

Fletcher says she understands the workers’ frustrations. She says over the years, the county has lost funding and is trying various options.

“Some of our colleagues and peers around the state and the country, in fact, are putting kids up in hotels and different things like that,” Fletcher said. “We don’t feel that that’s a great option. We do have a space where we are committed to serving these kids and their needs.”

The director says in the short-term, some staff members, with experience in residential treatment settings have volunteered to watch over the children here.

In the long term, a “child wellness campus” that could include a residential center is being proposed.

But rallying workers say they need a solution now. They also read a resolution of support from Sen. Sherrod Brown.