WALKER -- Cass County appears to have an average number of children in out-of-home placements compared with the rest of the state
Yet, costs here keep escalating, because more require specialized, higher cost services.
This is the assessment Probation Officer Reno Wells and Children's Services Supervisor Joan Helms brought to Cass County Commissioners on Tuesday.
They compared the county to state statistics and reported their own experiences with changes in placements they are having to make.
Helms said more children social services sees are requiring more expensive mental health services today than in the past.
Children often are younger. Parents have more mental health problems today as well, she said.
Another issue she sees is an influx of children and parents from other counties. If another county places a child in specialized services and the parent moves here, she said, Cass becomes liable for the bills.
Helms acknowledged that possibly Cass has not been able to keep current enough with billing other counties for services when parents move from here to another county.
Wells reported he believes probation services are making headway, but the number of children who have failed to respond to local services has increased.
This means as more young people commit more serious crimes they must be placed in more expensive correctional services, he said.
He, too, sees families transferring into this area from other parts of the state and from other states.
The board questioned whether parents might be targeted with services to help them to better deal with children who have problems.
Wells and Helms said only in cases where there is a court order issued can parents be required to attend counseling or accept help to improve their children's behavior.
Neither social services, nor probation have authority to require parents to accept any services, they told the board.
Wells cited juvenile corrections placements his office had Sept. 24 as an example.
Of the 20 children placed in correctional facilities, only two had gross misdemeanor charges as their most serious offenses, but those were for criminal sexual conduct convictions.
The other 18 all had committed at least one felony offense. Twelve had committed a felony theft, motor vehicle theft or burglary. Five had made felony terroristic threats. One had committed a felony first-degree assault, Wells reported.
At the end of September or at 75 percent of the year, county costs for out-of-home placements were 87 percent of the budget.
Administrator Robert Yochum noted average cost per day for placing children has risen 18 percent this year.
Wells and Helms said this is largely because children in placement have not responded to lower cost services and require services from higher cost facilities.
Higher child placement costs have put the overall social services budget one percent over projections for the end of September.
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