Children Services applauds governor's intent to increase funding

By Heather Willard

March 15, 2019

Note: This story appears in the Friday, March 15 newspaper on Page A1.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine wants far more state funding to be allocated toward children services and those with the Athens County Children Services are voicing approval for that suggestion.

It will be up to state legislators to ultimately determine how much funding the state will provide to protect abused and neglected children in Ohio.

DeWine is set to publicize his full budget proposal on Friday. Earlier in the week, he announced that a main priority of the budget proposal would be an additional $78 million in state spending toward children services.

Cathy Hill, executive director of Athens County Children Services, was on hand in Columbus for that announcement and told The Messenger in a subsequent interview that the proposed increase is a welcome and needed development.

Ohio’s funding toward public children services has been the lowest in the nation for several years, according to the Public Children Services Association of Ohio. In 2013, for each dollar spent on children services in Ohio, a majority (52 percent) was paid from local sources; 39 percent came from federal sources; and just nine percent was provided by state funding.

That nine-cents-on-the-dollar statistic in Ohio contrasts with a national average of states paying 43 cents of each child welfare dollar, the PCSAO found.

By 2016, the state’s share had increased by one percent to 10 — paying just 10 percent of the $621 million spent on protecting and caring for children.

“While Ohio is the 7th largest state in the nation, per capita, Ohio ranks 15th with overall spending on children services which includes federal, state and local funding,” PCSAO executive director Angela Sausser told state legislators in 2017.

Foster care costs in the state jumped by 20 percent from 2013 to 2016, with more than $330 million being spent for those services. Much of that is spent on cases related to substance abuse.

Hill said Wednesday that the drug epidemic has presented many challenges to the agency, noting that in 2017 there were 46 case referrals that involved drug-impacted children from birth to 1 year old.

“That’s a really high number,” she said. “Ten years ago, we’d have maybe single digits for those issues, and maybe half-a-dozen cases would have been high.”

Hill noted that in 2013, the Athens County agency spent about $1,500,000 on placement costs, which is mainly room and board for children in the agency’s care. She also noted that the cost per diem ranges anywhere from $24 to $420, due to an increase in the level of care required for many cases.

“We have seen an increase in the number of children coming into care over the recent years, and really started to spike in 2013,” Hill said. “We’ve had a little bit of leveling off last year that we are already aware of, but children are coming in with more complex needs, more trauma and having more complex needs.”

She said the agency had 183 children in custody in 2017, mainly through foster care, which is an increase from previous years.

“Overall, in 2017 placement cost hit an all-time record,” Hill continued. “We spent over $2 million on placement care and placement costs for children. It’s been going up at a dramatic amount.”

In total, around two-thirds of cases the county agency oversees have substance abuse as a factor.

DeWine’s proposal of $78 million in additional funding includes:

  • A $30 million increase in funding for the State Child Protection Allocation, which would raise it to $90 million in annual funding
  • $25 million for multi-system youth, which will help prevent parents from having to relinquish custody of children with developmental disabilities or severe mental illness so that the children can get the treatment they need;
  • $8.5 million to support grandparents and other kin care providers who unexpectedly find themselves caring for children, and to invest in recruiting much-needed foster parents;
  • $5.5 million to expand the Bridges program for youth who emancipate from our system without achieving permanency;
  • $4.5 million to expand evidence-based programs like Ohio START (which Athens County implemented in 2018) and 30 Days to Family to prevent children from coming into foster care; and
  • $2.6 million to help our caseworkers be more efficient and productive in the field.

Since this is a proposal, it is not yet known how much of that money would filter down to Athens County.

The new fiscal year starts on July 1; the Ohio House of Representatives and the Ohio Senate have until then to approve a two-year budget for 2020-2021.

Hill said she thinks Athens County will see an increase in funding, but can’t say for sure what the outcome will be.

Hill added that the county agency is looking to update its levy this November. It was last renewed in 2016. The levy generates about $2.28 million per year for Children Services. She applauded the governor’s increased funding.

“This represents an investment in the future of our community,” Hill said. “Our children are our future and caring for vulnerable children and families of Athens County now will only pay off in a better future for Athens County.”

The agency is always looking for additional foster homes, and has foster parent training scheduled for April.

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