At the Social Work Month luncheon in March, Summit County Children Services (SCCS) presented case worker Rob Harpley with the Outstanding Child Protection Worker of the Year award for his exemplary commitment to youth and families.

Harley is NOW in the running for the state award, which will be presented at the Public Children Services Association of Ohio’s annual conference in September.

Nominated by a former boss, Harpley received the award because of "his strong advocacy for children and high standards of integrity and professionalism," according to the agency’s press release. To be nominated, child protection workers must excel in several areas, including leadership, a record of positive relationships with children and families, innovative methods to child protection, advocacy and achievements on behalf of children and families and a positive contribution to the public image of child protection.

This year committee selected Harpley, a licensed social worker with a a history of assisting children in need. He has served 26 years with the county and he embodies SCCS’s mission to reunify families when possible. "Even when things look very bleak for them in terms of reunification, he’s working towards a plan for permanency," SCCS director of protective services Ann Ream said.

From 2014 to 2016, Summit County has seen an increase in the number of children in SCCS custody and this is largely attributed to the recent drug epidemic plaguing the area. Currently, SCCS has over 600 children in their custody and the organization is "committed to the safety, permanency and well-being of all children served, in partnership with families and the community," according to its website.

Because Harpley usually works with youth who have been placed in group homes or residential facilities, he can spend over eight hours a day just commuting to see some of the children he works with. A familiar face in the community, his commitment has earned him a full caseload. Many of his cases come as referrals with families, peers, and court personnel requesting that he be assigned to their case.

Harpley started with the county in 1990 after working as a supervisor in a children’s residential center. His B.A. in psychology comes from the University of Akron. Currently, the father of four lives in Lake Township. Most of his children are grown, with the youngest being a senior in high school.

"This is a tough job to do for a few years, let alone 26. Over time it has gotten a lot more complex in family dynamics. Our world has changed due to social media and all of the issues -- substance abuse, physical and sexual abuse -- have become much more complex," Ream said.

Still, Harpley shows no signs of slowing down and wants to work at least five more years with the county.

He says the key is the people around him. "My wife and kids are really what continues to drive me. I feel very lucky, fortunate and blessed. I am in large part a product of the people around me; great peers, great supervisors, great support around me, great home life. It’s a job but it’s what I do, what I love, and who I am," he said. 

Not every day is a win for Harpley but he tries to think of his work in baseball terms. "You're considered a great hitter if you make 3 out of 10, it's kind of the same way with our kids and caseloads. You've got to focus on the good and the positives. Everything we do every day is impacting our kids and families, hopefully in a good way," Harpley added.

Ream believes he is deserving of the award and the state award because he thrives in a job where so many others would struggle. She described him as "an incredible man" who is a role model and mentor, one admired by his peers, the administration, community service providers, and the youth with whom he works.