Family Services granted 2010 budget increaseWORTHINGTON — During its budget discussions this fall, the Nobles County Board of Commissioners looked to all of its departments to trim wherever possible.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories planned this week regarding out-of-home placement of children and the community’s hope to reverse the trends.
WORTHINGTON — During its budget discussions this fall, the Nobles County Board of Commissioners looked to all of its departments to trim wherever possible.
Most of the departments found ways to make cuts, while Family Services was eventually granted a budget increase in 2010 — due in large part to the number of children being placed in alternative care.
In 2009, Nobles County Family Services had a budget of $736,663 for out-of-home placement of children. That will be increased to $800,000 in 2010, a decision commissioners made after learning the 2009 budget had already been exceeded. As of October, the agency had spent $777,991.
It’s difficult for any county to gauge how much money will be needed for out-of-home placements each year.
Having to remove just one special needs child from a home and place her in 24-hour care, or having to find housing for a family of five children for safety reasons, could have a deep and lasting impact on the family services budget.
In 2007 and 2008, Nobles County had to take a combined $120,000 out of reserves to fund the program.
Deb Clem, family and children’s social service supervisor in Nobles County, said the average length of stay for a child in foster care or juvenile corrections is three months, while those admitted for mental health treatment stay an average of seven months.
Reasons for placement
Mary Fischer, Nobles County Family Services Administrator, said there are four main reasons why children aren’t able to stay with their parents. Child safety and stability tops the list, followed by correctional and mental health issues and chemical dependency.
Clem said correctional placements are made when a child has committed a crime or a series of crimes like shoplifting and, despite working with the child, the behavior has continued.
Mental health issues, along with chemical dependency, make up at least 50 percent of the cases in Nobles County Family Services, according to Fischer.
The main reason for removing a child with mental health issues from the home is because it is medically necessary to stabilize the behavior. Other reasons may include that the child may harm themselves or someone else in the home.
When it comes to out of home placements, the county’s role is to ensure the safety of all children, as well as to provide programs to meet the needs of families.
“We’ve tried, over 2009, to do as much as we can to ensure safety and permanence,” said Fischer.
Just as Family Services works to improve its goal — to keep children in their own home with their own family — she said they are working against the increasing stress families face because of the ongoing economic uncertainty.
“There is increased stress in the economy, and you see more chemical use,” Fischer said. “We’re seeing more of it than we typically would.”
Tracking the numbers
Nobles County Family Services has, on average, between 25 to 35 children cycle through out of home placements each year.
Since August 2008, when Fischer became the director, the number of children placed has steadily increased, but the duration of out-of-home stay has been shorter, she said.
At this time, the agency has 39 children in placements outside the home. That number is duplicated for children who may have been removed from their parents’ care for more than one reason.
Of the children involved, 27 families are affected. Seven of the children — all males — have been removed from their home for corrective behavior, four for mental health issues (three males and one female), one for chemical dependency and three have diagnosed developmental disabilities. A dozen of the children have been placed in the care of relatives, nine are in pre-adoptive placements and three are in the process of transfer of permanent legal custody placement. Of those 24, 14 are females and 10 are males, ranging in age from 1 to 17.
Fischer said the agency tries to place children with relatives whenever possible. Because of rules governing out of home placements, those relatives must apply for and obtain foster care licensure.
After the living arrangements are made, Fischer said the agency strives to get the child involved in community-based services as soon as possible.
“Removal from the family is considered a traumatic event,” she said. “Our over-arching goal is to be responsive — to provide for safety and keep kids with family wherever possible.”