Getting to families with young children before they reach a crisis may be one way to actually reduce the budget.
That is at least the opportunity presented with a potential pilot program, Beth Wilms, Crow Wing County Community Services director, said Tuesday.
Out-of-home placements play havoc on county budgets as children are removed from homes. Then decisions are made as to their futures, whether that means they are returned to biological families, relatives or put into adoption in what human services departments now term “forever homes.”
Wilms said the county was approached by the Bush Foundation and Children’s Defense Fund as one of just three counties approached in the state for targeted intervention involving young children. Wilms said she’d like to explore the opportunity.
The county’s total placement budget for 2011 is $2,809,029 with $2,462,684 spent to date.
Wilms said the new early intervention effort could focus on families who are in chaos but before it reaches a child protection concern and even temporarily requires a child be taken away from parents. The program would target families with children age 3 or younger who are on the bubble and in danger of moving to chaos and then crisis, Wilms said.
The moms and dads may need help with parenting, or life or job skills. And getting those services up front may help the county avoid a much larger bill when children are placed outside their homes.
“We’d like to provide services to that family or that child before they are in crisis,” Wilms said. “Every child deserves a forever home....”
“It’s a bigger return on investment in our eyes so we don’t have to pull that child out of the home, put them into another home,” Wilms said noting even if people look at it monetarily, out-of-home placements are expensive. “But I think you can’t put a price on the disruption and the chaos that it puts into a family and especially a child when you pull a child out of their home and put them someplace else. We really can’t put a price on the potential damage and the scarring that happens when a child is pulled out of their home. We’d like to be in there prior to that.”
Wilms said funding for an established early intervention program could come from significant savings in out-of-home placement costs.
Wilms said she isn’t sure if the Bush Foundation will approve the plan, but the county’s hat was tossed into the ring.
Wilms said Crow Wing County has always been on the cutting edge in this area. She said programming could be handled with a contractor and would not require additional county staff.
In other business, Wilms said the first floor entry to the Community Services Building now includes a reception area with a staff member to assist people for improved customer service. The reception area is able to direct people, connect them with the proper staff member and provide direct service. A television screen is now providing information on events on the county campus and in the community.
Commissioner Phil Trusty said after going for years with people unsure of which office or building to find the service they are looking for, he doesn’t know why it took so long for this service.