WALKER - Cass County completed another year with out-of-home child placement costs exceeding the budget in 2006.
The county board Tuesday debated, without finding answers, the problems children and families face leading to placing children outside their own homes.
"The problems are huge," said Dorothy Opheim, health, human and veterans services director. "Families have so many issues. Many are alcohol- and drug-related."
Information she and Probation Director Reno Wells presented from 2006 confirm that. Of the 57 children the social services, probation and law enforcement screening team evaluated before deciding on placements, 40 children were age 15 or younger, 17 were age 15 or older. Eighteen involved cocaine; nine, methamphetamine; 12, marijuana; and 16 alcohol.
The team screened 21 cases involving neglect, 24 for behavior issues, six for truancy, three child mental health cases, one for abuse and two with medical problems. The number of boys and girls were about evenly split. Twelve children were white and 45 were Indian.
Administrator Robert Yochum said, while the board and staff have focused on trying to find ways to keep children in their own homes, the board also should look at the financial side too. About 15 percent of the county property tax levy in Cass goes to pay the county's share of out-of-home placement costs.
Counties having an Indian reservation are paying a disproportionate amount of the budget toward these services, he said. The reservation and county should be going to Congress to seek federal funding for the Indian population receiving these services, he suggested.
To date, county officials have been unable to get a joint plan with reservation officials here to take to the federal government to get funded, Yochum said.
Opheim said she sees earlier intervention in children's lives as the most hopeful approach toward success.
Commissioner Jim Dowson, who has served as board representative to the screening team and is a former Cass County sheriff, said he doesn't think the screening team has been productive or that placements have improved the situation.
Not only is there recidivism among those placed today, but he said he also is seeing children and grandchildren in placement now of people whom he arrested years ago as a law enforcement officer.
"It's not going to change until these people (families involved in out-of-home child placements) take responsibility for themselves," Commissioner Jeff Peterson said.
Out-of-home placements in Cass County cost $2,722,352 in 2006, with the county property tax levy paying $2,441,820 of that. While the total was $200,000 less than spent in 2005, it was $165,000 more than the county budgeted for 2006.
About half went to place children in correctional facilities after they committed a crime. The rest paid for foster care, emergency shelters, group homes and miscellaneous health, respite, transportation and court costs.
The children the screening team reviewed were a small portion of the children placed outside their homes, a figure that ran as high as 156 per month in 2006. The court determines placements for those going to correctional facilities, so the screening team does not review those cases.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.