WALKER -- Cass County Human Services completed 1999 at 1 percent over budget, but will go into 2000 with $169,549 more than Jan. 1 last year to carry expenses until tax revenues are receipted mid-year.
Again this year, part of the reason that fund ran over budget projections was the rising cost for out-of-home child placements.
That portion of the human services budget was 104 percent of projections. The county budgeted $2.3 million in 1999, but paid out $2,398,386.
Out-of-home placements cover both placements for children who are at risk from injury themselves if left in their own homes and those who would be a risk to society if not placed in treatment or corrections facilities for their actions.
Susan Ault, child services supervisor, and Reno Wells, probation officer, told the county board Tuesday they have met with judges and others involved in the court and social services system to try to find ways to limit out-of-home placement costs.
Since 1990, those costs have increased from $875,867 per year or about 269 percent.
When in-home family counseling was offered by the probation department in 1996, there was a slight out-of-home child placement cost drop.
Since then, the state shifted the cost for correctional services placements to counties, causing a $500,000 jump in placement costs in one year alone, Wells said.
Ault told the board Minnesota is the only state in the country not contributing to child placement costs.
She and Wells agreed out-of-home placement is being used now as a last resort when children are in imminent danger if left in their own homes. Alternate programs for children potentially risking injury to others also are in place to the extent services are available.
They suggested contract services are not adequately providing family counseling to correct dysfunctional families.
Ault and Wells obtained county board approval to pursue the possibility of hiring a county psychologist to do more comprehensive in-home assessments of children in their home setting, to testify in court and to provide family therapy.
They estimated such an employee would cost about $48,000, with benefits, travel and training. It could be funded with medical assistance, court budget for sex offender evaluations and from money now being spent for out-of-home placements.
Administrator Robert Yochum also suggested some money now being spent for Northern Pines Mental Health Services might be shifted to funding this employee.
Other suggestions coming from the court-human services staff study of this issue were greater focus on chemical dependency and alcohol abuse as it affects families, charging parents with educational neglect rather than children with truancy and increasing youth and family services in schools.
Ault said, while initial jail costs and out-of-home placement costs might increase initially, there has been evidence that children attend school more regularly and become better citizens when parents spend a few days in jail for failing to ensure their children attend school.
In other human services issues Tuesday, Health and Humans Services Director Dorothy Opheim reported the multi-county effort to provide a local alternative to Medical Assistance has abandoned the effort to obtain a federal agency waiver to implement the program.
Instead, the group will seek a waiver through the state Medical Assistance program. Opheim said it still hopes to have the program operational by June.
Under the county program clients will have more options than under the state program to choose area service providers for their medical services.
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