As of the beginning of May, there were 412 kids in Butler County Children Services custody, 139 in Butler County licensed foster homes, 231 in “out-of-network” homes like the Buckeye Ranch and 42 cared for by relatives. There are now 149 children eligible for adoption whose reunification with their birth parents has been ruled out by the courts.
BCCS spent $10 million on foster care placements last year compared to $9 million in 2017. So far this year the agency has spent $3.3 million.
Bill Morrison, Butler County Job and Family Services executive director, said if the Senate agrees with the appropriation it doubles the $1.2 million the county receives in state aid for foster care. He and BCCS Director Julie Gilbert said multiple factors have combined to squeeze the foster care budget.
“Julie and the staff over there do a great job of managing the number of kids in care, which is the driver of placement cost,” Morrison said. “We’ve kept those number pretty steady over the last four or five years. But the cost of each placement continues to rise, particularly those placements that are outside of our own foster care network.”
He said under the new federal Family First Prevention Services Act the number of requirements group homes are mandated to meet is driving costs up.
The agency is receiving less in federal reimbursement, as well. Low-income families are eligible for federal assistance but once they reach the hourly work threshold, the funding disappears.
“Given the state of the economy right now, many individuals are working,” she said. “It’s essentially about part-time, the amount of hours they would have to work per month, so many of our families are reaching that.”
Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said it is “incredibly awesome” the state has upped its support. Expanding in-house foster family recruitment and increasing the number of programs the agency has, like Family Preservation, that can prevent child removals altogether would be good uses of some of the money.
“You gain so much by having them closer to home, the travel to visit their parents if we’re doing that, and therapy sessions, it will allow us to expand all the services that are available,” she said. “There are a lot of things to think about when you receive over $1 million.”
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The state’s funding formula will affect how much the county receives. The $25 million BCCS budget is supported by a tax levy that generates about $13 million annually, so if the state decides to favor the non-levy counties, it would hurt Butler County.
“What our concern is if they weight it too significantly toward what they think of as being hardship counties,” Morrison said. “Because hardship translates into you don’t have a levy counties. What we don’t want them to do is to come up with a funding formula that dissuades county commissioners from being willing to run levies.”
Scott Britton, assistant director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, said until the last budget there hadn’t been any new investment in children services for a decade. He said he is confident the Senate will confirm the commitment when the state budget takes effect July 1.
“We’re just absolutely delighted that they recognized the severe crisis in children services and invested even more,” Britton said. “We know we have some champions in the senate as well who have stood up for children services in the past, so we’re looking forward to working with them to maintain those investments all the way through to June 30.”