Seneca County Department of Job and Family Services Director Kathy Oliver said a partnership with Sandusky and Wyandot County DJFS has led to better placement for foster children and fiscal responsibility with taxpayer money, but the work is not done yet.
Oliver said partnering with the two agencies to recruit foster homes has been a successful endeavor. “Our next step is to develop publicly approved treatment homes in our county, so we do not have to send kids outside of the county,” she said.
Foster care is an important, but expensive function of DJFS, with the overall cost of the placement of children in Seneca County exceeding $6 million since 2011, with the county picking up a significant portion of this cost. One reason for the increase is the reliance on costly private providers, some from out of state.
In September 2020, a northwest Ohio initiative including 26 different counties was developed to discuss the rising placement costs and per diems from private agencies. The need to tier and standardize rates of payment for out of home placement was widely discussed, as placement costs have continued to soar in many counties.
There has been an identified need for publicly approved treatment foster care programs as an alternative for placement of high-need children versus private treatment foster care programs. Many counties are finding it difficult to find quality placement for children who have been identified to have significant developmental, behavioral and mental health challenges while engaged with multiple systems of care.
In Ohio, there are only 65 treatments homes licensed by public agencies, with 58 of them in Lucas County.
The tri-county collaborative which has been working with Children’s Keeper to recruit traditional foster homes, has begun discussions to develop a pilot collaboration treatment foster home program.
The natural progression of this work would be to continue to work with the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties. Oliver said she appreciates the recovery services board and specifically executive director Mircea Handru, for contributing funds and partnering on the tri-county collaborative effort.
“We have seen increasing challenging behaviors on the rise for children in care, and our county counterparts have been struggling to locate placement for these children, and, at times, are forced to look out of state,” Oliver said. “Our tri-county collaborative is seeking to pilot a publicly approved tiered treatment foster care program. This would be an enhancement of the current foster care programs in our areas.”
Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot counties currently have traditional family foster care programs, but with treatment level care, children who are placed in private networks due to the need for skilled care, would more likely be able to stay in our area.
Oliver said she is proud of the work that has already been done but is optimistic that by continuing to work with the agency’s many partners, even more can be done for foster children. “We are working hard to collaborate to get the best placements for kids who need it while also trying to be fiscally responsible with the funds provided by the county commissioners for payment for those services,” she said.
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