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Placement costs drive children services budget ask

Placement costs drive children services budget ask

Skyrocketing placement costs for children in foster care are outpacing local levy dollars, county general revenue funding and the state’s increased child protection allocation, leading advocates to testify before the Senate Health Committee today for additional funding to support kids and families.

County agency directors joined the Public Children Services Association of Ohio in requesting a $50 million increase in the State Child Protection Allocation, a request supported by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio. “Annual foster care placement costs have increased by $88 million in four years,” said PCSAO Executive Director Angela Sausser. “That is a 26 percent increase.”

Sausser said that county agencies are spending the historic new investments made by the Governor and General Assembly two years ago. A survey of county agencies revealed that four out of five spent the new investments in the current budget primarily on placement costs, and that two in five agencies forecast their financial outlook during the next biennium to be weak or even at deficit levels. Sausser noted that maintaining the current investment is critical, but in the next two years new state and federal requirements, including Ohio’s Kinship Support Program and the Family First Act, will increase costs for counties even more. Projected increases, primarily placement costs, amount to a minimum of $52 million per year.

Coshocton County Job and Family Services Director Danny Brenneman explained to Ohio Senate Health Committee members that, unlike most government agencies that have fixed costs, placement costs in children services are unpredictable, and can increase exponentially when a child with complex trauma requiring expensive residential treatment comes into care. These expensive placements consume precious local levy dollars. Two such placements account for 35 percent of Coshocton County’s children services levy funds. “Financially, we are broke, to use blunt terms,” Brenneman testified. “Just last month I met with my commissioners to review our inability to continue to pay for kids in care at the current cost and that, as an agency, we’ve done everything imaginable and then some with our internal finances to keep current with foster providers and facilities.”

South Central Ohio Job and Family Services Director Jody Walker (pictured) stated in his testimony that placement costs have increased in his three-county area (Ross, Hocking and Vinton counties) even as custody numbers remained steady. “We are overwhelmed with the needs of the children and families we serve daily,” Walker said. “This is attributed to a variety of reasons, many of which all counties are facing: the opiate/drug crisis, severe mental health issues, continued high custody counts, increase in placement costs, lack of foster homes, lack of regional residential facilities and lack of resources, both financially and service based.”

Also testifying was Sarah Hayden, a family peer mentor at Warren County Children Services. Hayden spoke about how investing in prevention services, such as Ohio START can make a difference in preventing children from coming into foster care and helping parents achieve sobriety and stability so that they can safely care for their kids. “My role at children services is vital, and the work we do is not easy,” Hayden said. “The real-life situations can be daunting: The overdoses, the abuse kids face and the lack of basic needs are real. Intervening early with children helps prevent the cycle of abuse, promotes child safety, and builds long-lasting resilience. We do this job because we care and want to see change.”

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HB 110 will move to the Senate Finance Committee after the Health Committee completes its work. The budget is expected to be signed by the Governor by June 30.