County Family Services: 'Need more staff'
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO July 19, 2013 Housing the homeless, caring for foster kids and investigating child abuse complaints took up the bulk of Tuesday’s rescheduled County Legislature Health and Family Services Committee meeting.
Legislators were pleasantly surprised to learn that those needing emergency housing from the county had dropped from a high of 200 to less than 100 this summer.
“The lowest point we’ve seen ... was 82,” explained Health Commissioner Randy Parker, noting the current number is around 99.
But those 99 are all staying in 10 motels scattered around Monticello and Liberty, and the county continues to look into alternative housing.
“What we’re coming across is a lack of affordable housing for the low-income or no-income in the county,” Parker told legislators.
A housing policy is being developed, but legislators debated whether or not that should include the legally complex idea of leasing residential space from landlords, rather than renting motel rooms.
No consensus has yet been reached.
Saying she’d been trying to become a Sullivan County foster care parent for the past four years, Legislator Cindy Gieger expressed concern Tuesday that she and other potential foster parents might have been ignored or forgotten by the system.
Gieger said she ended up contacting a neighboring county and, within months, welcomed a foster child into her Jeffersonville home.
“The process needs to be reformed,” she argued.
She also felt Sullivan County’s system should focus more on finding families for children in the county, rather than boarding them out to out-of-county therapeutic residential facilities.
Gieger later added that local foster care costs the county less than $10,000 per child, while out-of-county or professional care can run upwards of $100,000 per child.
Out of 81 Sullivan County children in foster care, 29 are in local foster homes as of June 30. Twenty-one are in therapeutic foster care, 11 in residential facilities, 10 in group homes, four in the hospital, four in non-secure treatment facilities and two AWOL.
Parker agreed that more local placement is desirable, but he argued that the county has to invest in more staff and more foster parent training classes to get those numbers up.
In fact, he and his staff are preparing to ask for two more social workers and a case aide in the upcoming 2014 county budget.
The county share, he predicted, “probably would be 20 cents on the dollar.”
“There’s a fair amount of hand-holding that has to be done” with new foster parents, Parker explained, “... and I think we’ll develop a larger base.”
Parker also opened eyes when he related that the county receives around 1,500 calls about alleged child abuse every year.
“About 70 percent are unsubstantiated,” he added, though 42 cases did go to court and result in a conviction.
Nevertheless, Sullivan County ranks highest in the region for overdue investigations. As of May 31, 26 percent of child abuse investigations have taken longer than the state’s designated maximum of 60 days.
Sullivan County’s caseworkers also have the highest child abuse investigations workload in the entire state, with 92 percent handling more than 15 investigations (the state-recommended maximum) at any given time.
Parker thus reiterated the need for increased staffing (going from 14 to 16 caseworkers), for which he’ll advocate in the upcoming budget process.