EATON — Children Services placement costs, low traffic at the OhioMeansJobs center and a childcare crisis were just three topics Preble County Job and Family Services Director Becky Sorrell discussed in her monthly report to commissioners on Monday, June 28.
Sorrell explained the county’s OhioMeansJobs office had not seen a lot of traffic resume.
“There was a regional meeting, an Area 7 meeting, recently, and all of the OhioMeansJobs were reporting lower traffic than normal, so we felt a little better that we weren’t the only ones without the traffic,” she said.
Sorrell reported Children Services had some new foster parents. “We always are happy to have new local foster parents,” she said. “We like to keep our kids local, and also the cost of care is cheaper with the local foster parents. It’s difficult to recruit, so we’re glad to have another one in West Manchester this time.”
The cost of care for Children Services for May was $248,000, according to Sorrell. “And that’s the highest amount for this year,” she said. “You can see how it’s gone up, month after month after month, and I think I’ve told you before, that this year is the highest placement cost in history that I can ever remember we’ve had.”
“I want to point out that the kids in residential group homes — 20 kids — are costing half of our monthly cost and 64 kids that are in either local or network foster homes are costing the other half. You can see that 64 kids are costing the same as 20 kids are costing, based on where they’re placed,” she reported.
She explained, “We do a document called a ‘level of care assessment’ on kids to determine whether they should be in local foster homes, group homes, or residential care based on some specific ratings, and it has some flexibility to it. Somewhere between the number 24 and 40, you start looking at more and more increased care. The problem with these this time is, as I’ve reported before, we’ve had so many sex offenders and we just cannot put them in foster homes. So that’s one of our issues and the other issue is, we’re having a very difficult time finding foster homes, especially for older kids. They’re just full. I think everybody’s experiencing this rise in foster care and needs.
“We are not going to be making it through July 30 without additional funding from the Commission Office for support,” she continued. “I’m going to send you a more specific letter about that before we ask. Then we should get funding again in August, to make it through the rest of the year — we hope.”
Sorrell added, she was going to be doing a review with caseworkers on the 20 children in residential group homes, to see if any of them can be stepped down, and also see if any others could be placed in relative kinship homes.
She said an expected cost increase in October is “very concerning.”
Sorrell also reported that Children Services had two child deaths in the past month.
“One was a child who actually was placed here from another county, with a relative, and there was a traumatic death of that two-year-old from a blunt force trauma, so even the placement wasn’t safe for that baby,” she said. “While it wasn’t our child when the child was placed here, it became our child now that the incident took place here.”
The other child death was a four-year-old who died in a house fire, she said.
“That causes a lot of trauma for the staff — an already over-stressed staff,” she said. “So, we’re dealing with that as well as the day-to-day work.
Staffing and transitions due to a retirement are going well in the Public Assistance division of JFS, according to Sorrell, who said that part of the agency is fully-staffed.
Sorrell also reported on a childcare shortage. “I don’t know if you guys have heard about Step Up to Quality for childcare, and I’m going to give you my unpopular opinion, but Step Up to Quality in my opinion creates a situation in which low-income people have to choose institutional care for their children rather than home providers.”
In Preble County, she pointed out, there is one certified childcare provider for home care.
“When I was a childcare worker, many years ago, we had 35-40 providers,” she said. “When the Step Up to Quality requirements started, which requires a specific educational degree and different things like that, and educational activities in the home — specific educational activities in the home — in order to be star-rated, it wasn’t worth it to the childcare providers to remain certified, so they became private pay without certification. Which means that our low-income families who are eligible for subsidized care cannot use them.”
This, according to Sorrell, has limited any choice for a low-income working parent, who has to choose a childcare center with a Step Up to Quality rating in order to use their subsidy. “In Preble County this causes a huge problem with finding childcare,” she said.
Sorrell has contacted legislators about House Bill 110 regarding childcare and the difficulties with Step Up to Quality in the county. “I’m not the only director who feels strongly about this, but there are a lot of directors who just aren’t addressing it,” she said. “I’m all for education, early education and that sort of thing, but I don’t necessarily think that institutional learning for babies and young children is all that it’s cracked up to be. I think you can learn a whole lot from somebody who will hold you on their lap and read a book to you, you know, without sitting you in chairs and circle time or whatever.”
JFS remains in a staffing crisis in Children Services, Sorrell reported. A recent resignation leaves the agency with one intake worker and three on-going workers. They are working on restructuring to a one-worker model for Children’s Services which means the worker will do the intake and keep the case on-going if feasible.
“It’s not a good method, it’s failed in most counties, but I don’t know how else do it. There’s no way one person can do all the intake,” she told commissioners, noting they are at about half the necessary staff. Preble County is not alone in the staffing shortage in Children Services, she said, as other counties are having the same difficulty.
Food stamp numbers have decreased in Preble County, according to Sorrell, and are at a historic low, which she attributes to people being able to get jobs.
Commission President Rachael Vonderhaar asked Sorrell how possible payment in lieu of taxes on renewable energy projects for the proposed solar farm projects would affect JFS’ funding, per the Children Services tax levy, as there will be an exemption on the land beneath the projects with regard to property taxes. Sorrell said those local dollars are what JFS uses for “match money.” “We will really struggle,” she said.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on Twitter @emowenjr