WALKER -- Cass County Health and Human Services received 102 percent of budgeted income in 2001 and expended 4 percent more than budgeted.
Part of the reason the county exceeded budget projections was the fact out-of-home child placements cost the county 19 percent more in county dollars than budgeted for those costs.
The overall budget for those services was 12 percent more than planned, but the county was able to recover fewer reimbursements from other sources than expected at the time the budget was set.
The county spent $65,089 to place children in emergency shelters last year. Foster care services cost $836,725. Another $658,317 was spent for group home services. Placing children in correctional facilities ran the highest at $1,350,922.
Another $72,571 was spent for health care, respite care, transportation and court services for children in out-of-home placement.
Probation Officer Reno Wells told the county board Tuesday he meets regularly with human services department personnel to look at ways the county might lower out-of-home placement costs.
When the county board inquired about whether some preventive programs initiated in recent years have failed, Wells said he believes those programs are effective. Without them, he told the board, more children would be in placement than there are today. Costs would be higher.
Some children are in placement for their own safety, Wells said. Others are being treated for mental health or developmental disabilities. Others go to correctional facilities for the safety of the rest of the public. Other placements result from severe conflicts between parents and children.
Family needs and community needs are considered before children enter placement, Wells said.
Staff continually review assessment processes taken before children go into placement to see whether alternatives can be used, he said. Where changes are possible, those changes are made, Wells added.
In response to a board request, he said he would contact neighboring counties to see whether their evaluation processes or programs might be something more cost effective, which Cass could adopt.
While the county has adopted a requirement that parents who can afford to pay will pay for services rendered to children in out-of-home placement, Health and Human Services Director Dorothy Opheim said few parents of children in placement have sufficient income to make payments.
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