"Ted and I both have spent extensive time in the trenches working with people’s problems. It seemed like we spent the whole time complaining about needing five minutes with people at the state level to explain to them how things could be better.
"When Ted was elected governor, we knew we wanted to make sure that we were there to listen. We want to stay close to the people."
So said Frances Strickland, wife of Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, following a Feb. 12 forum with members of the Madison County Family and Children First Council.
The First Lady’s trip to London was part of her quest, as chairwoman of Ohio Family and Children First, to visit the Family Councils in each of the state’s 88 counties. Strickland is on track to reach that goal by mid-summer, when she said she will turn around and do it all again.
"There are outdated policies that people bump up against. I want to take those concerns back to the decision-makers at the state level," she said of her mission. "Each county has different problems. They prioritize their own needs."
In Madison County, the concerns are a lack of funding, transportation and personnel, said local Family Council Director Saundra LaPrise.
"Those are the challenges to being a small county and providing services," she said.
Family Council is a partnership of community organizations and gov-ernment agencies committed to im-proving the well-being of families and children by streamlining systems and services. Madison County’s council has 70 members representing 49 public and non-profit organizations, including social service, criminal justice and consumer-related groups.
"We do a community needs assessment every three years. All of the agencies and service providers use the same data to monitor progress, evaluate needs and develop new programs," La Prise said.
She and her colleagues shared with Strickland not only the challenges, but also the successes Madison County Family Council has enjoyed. They include implementation of parenting and family relationship classes, early intervention for young learners, and prevention programs for delinquent juveniles.
"Madison County has been collaborating longer than most counties have, so their concerns are more at the administrative level—paperwork, funding, policies," said Strickland.
LaPrise said she was impressed by the First Lady’s knowledge, insight and genuine concern about how things could be improved at the state level.
"Before she left, I told her that she was valuing our opinions and that meant a lot," LaPrise said.
Strickland holds a doctorate degree in educational psychology from the University of Kentucky. In her career, she has worked in the public school system, with adjudicated delinquents, and in the mental health field. Through it all, she has seen the family dynamic change.
"Our families are more complex and complicated than they were in earlier times, like when I grew up," she said. "There are more single heads of families than ever. There are more people in poverty and they stay there longer than ever. There are more depression and mental health issues."
Families today often need the services of more than one agency to "go from desperation to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," she said. That’s where Family Council’s "wrap around" approach comes in.
"They wrap around the family, study all their needs, and then each agency picks up their parts to help," Strickland said.
Madison County’s Family and Children First Council is headquartered at 52 S. Main St. in London. The organization provides assistance and referrals to families in need. For information, call 740-852-5343.