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Care for children no longer in family situation and with behavioral problems significant cost for county

By Howard B. Owens

An ongoing expense struggle for the county's Department of Social Services said Commissioner Eileen Kirkpatrick is the cost of supporting children in foster care, and especially those who are institutionalized because of serious behavioral problems.

There are about 15 kids in institutional care, which costs the county about $225,000 per year per child.

These are children whose parents could either no longer handle them, or the parents are out of the picture and the children caused problems in foster care settings.

"Some kids' behavior is so extreme not only are they not safe, their families aren't safe and their foster parents aren't safe," Kirkpatrick said. "I'm talking about kids who assault staff, who actually beat up their caretakers."

Kirkpatrick talked about one child who has been in DSS care since she was 12. She frequently ran away from her foster homes and later her institutional care homes.

"I'm responsible for her until she's 21," Kirkpatrick said. "That young lady, she got out of OCSF at 18 and a month beforehand, we moved her into a supervised independent living program. I'm surprised. She's been there since June and actually has stayed there."

That $45,000 annual fee is better than the $225,000 it cost to keep her institutionalized.

There are currently 51 children in foster care, Kirkpatrick said, and the vast majority of them are typical children, going to school and staying out of serious trouble.

The county needs to find more local foster parents, though. Kirkpatrick anticipates an increase in need with school starting when schools are more likely to identify children with problems at home. Today's problems that lead to foster care often involve parental drug addiction. Opioid addiction takes a toll on the children, too.

It's better for the county to place children with the county's own foster parents than through one of the volunteer agencies, she said. That's because when the child goes to an agency, the county often ends up handling case management for the child; making sure they get registered for school, go to school and make any doctor's appointments, for example. So the county doesn't escape that expense, even though it's paying a higher fee for outside placement.

This was Kirkpatrick's last department review with County Legislators before retiring. Her presentation, she said, was meant to inform legislators of one of the significant cost issues facing DSS as the county heads into another round of budget preparation.

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