WALKER -- Cass County has spent 4 percent less than projected in the 2004 Human and Veterans Services budget through the first five months this year.
Part of the reason is out-of-home child placement costs ran only 33 percent of projections for the first 42 percent of the year, Health, Human and Veterans Services Director Dorothy Opheim told the county board Tuesday.
The county's share of those costs was at 30 percent of budget projections through May. Opheim said a major effort to recover out-of-home placement costs from parents who can afford to pay is offsetting the county's share of expenses.
Probation Director Reno Wells, who chairs the county out-of-home placement interdepartmental screening team, reported to the board on the first year of operations.
In addition to Wells and Opheim, screening team members include one county commissioner (currently Jim Dowson), a Leech Lake Reservation representative, a guardian ad-litem, the county attorney and a mental health practitioner.
The screening team reviews cases for all children who will go into out-of-home placement for more than 30 days, Wells said. Reasons for placement can include neglect, behavior issues, truancy, abuse, medical reasons or a child's mental health. Nearly 50 percent are placed for behavioral issues.
About 60 percent of the children are under age 15 and are male. Close to 75 percent are Indian. The team has screened 80 children for placement since June 2003.
Of the 77 children in placement June 23 this year, the probation department referred 11 and human services referred 66, Wells said.
Judge John P. Smith told the county board Tuesday he supports the team concept. It gives a lot more perspective and better results for children brought before the court, he said.
County Attorney Earl Maus added he has found the team approach effective.
"It's a good beginning for us. Viewpoint exchange has been good," Wells said, outlining changes the team proposes for the future. Team contributions will be sought from more social workers and probation officers who deal with children daily, Wells said.
There will be a review process started this year to see whether placements had a beneficial effect for children. A reporting process to and from the court will be initiated, Wells added.
Mental health social worker Karen Holle, who serves on the team, said she has found it beneficial when parents have come to screening team meetings concerning their children this year. She hopes to encourage more parental participation in the future, she said.
The screening team meets weekly.
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