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foster care

New county program plants seeds of hopeful future for youth

By Joanne Beck
DSS Commissioner Carla Mindler
Genesee County DSS Commissioner Carla Mindler during a meeting with county legislators. Mindler and DSS Director Ben Dennis talked about the foster care program and a new initiative, The Village, during this week's Ways & Means meeting. Photo by Joanne Beck.

Back in the earlier days of Hillary Clinton, there was a phrase made popular that “it takes a village” of diverse community members to make a difference in a child’s life.

That popular phrase became a mantra, book and now a harvested philosophy for Genesee County Department of Social Services’ new program: The Village, building connections, cultivating seeds.

DSS Commissioner Carla Mindler and Ben Dennis, director of Social Services, presented the program to county legislators this week. Atypical from most presenters before the county group, Dennis said he was not there for legislators’ wallets.

“The reason for this really is, I’m not going to ask for any money or to alter the budget or anything. What I want to do, though, is just kind of raise awareness to some things that are going on and some ideas that we have, and really just help get the word out there,” he said during the Ways & Means meeting. “For the past few months, what we've seen at DSS, with children especially, is a lot of mental health issues. And more and more of them — I don't know if it's the return to normalcy after the pandemic — we're getting a lot of cases where children are just depressed, a lot of anxiety, not wanting to go to school, being disruptive in the community. So we're needing more and more resources to keep them at home and not going into an out-of-home placement.

“Since September, we've had an increase in children that have gone to residential placements, which are not only not the best for the child to be in, but also the most expensive. We try everything to keep them out of there. And we have preventive services. We have foster care. We have our cluster home program.”

Genesee County has the Cluster Home Program, which is for foster parents who take in older youth and keep them out of institutions. They are specially trained and able to take the older youth who are in DSS custody, “not because of abuse or neglect, but because of their own behaviors that are juvenile delinquent, or adjudicated on their own to us, basically, by the probation department,” Dennis said, when they can't be maintained in the community any longer.

Those parents required “a lot of support from us,” including a youth worker that stayed with the child from the time he/she got off the school bus until bedtime. Those cluster homes have dwindled from seven to one for various reasons, and the agency is looking to recruit people to take care of these children, he said.

Genesee County The Village staff
Morgan Luce, Gina Giuliani, Ashley Shade, and Becca Nigro "have a shared passion for helping youth in our community. We have come together to create The Village to coordinate support for local youth and families and help them build connections, relationships, and find resources," according to The Village website. Photo from the site.

Meanwhile, however, there’s The Village. A stopgap of sorts to plug in volunteers as a resource, this program will serve up people to help children learn various skills, obtain academic lessons, and catch a ride when needed.

“We’re just going to be looking for volunteers in the community to step forward and be a resource for the child, and what that means and what kind of resources, maybe it's somebody who can tutor a child. You know, there's a child who's struggling with schoolwork that comes to the attention of DSS, some skill-building, transportation, a child that needs to get from their parent’s house to an activity or counseling,” he said. “So we want to look in our community for people who are like, ‘geez, I don’t know if I really want to be a foster parent yet, but I want to get involved with a family.’ I want to be able to help and make a connection with that volunteer and the family that we're working with.

“Just for some extra support for that family, if we can maintain that child in their own home with the help of a volunteer, then it's a win,” he said. “So basically what the village is going to do is advertise for volunteers, volunteers who not necessarily right away want to become a foster parent, but to be a resource.”

Ideally, that volunteer would build a relationship with the child and may end up feeling ready to become a foster parent or at least a trusted source of support for the youth, he said. The Village's mission is “to provide dynamic support to local families and youth by connecting them with qualified and effective volunteers.” The program staff’s goal is “to strive to see the youth in our community be successful and develop meaningful connections.”

“It’ll be a training process for anybody who’s interested in getting involved with that, and we hope that it’s going to fulfill a need that we see right now,” he said.

For more information or an application, go to

Byron-Bergen schoolchildren filled 100 backpacks with goodies for kids going into foster care

By Billie Owens

Top photo, Byron-Bergen Elementary School Council members and Assistant Principal Betsy Brown packing bags at the school for donating to CASA.

Submitted photos and press release:

Byron-Bergen Elementary School students pledged to fill 100 drawstring backpacks with toys and personal items for children being placed in foster care. They had two weeks to complete the project.

“I learned that there are a lot more kids that need help than I thought,” said Byron-Bergen Elementary School Student Council President Maryn Meier. “It’s pretty cool to be helping kids who are really in need.”

On Friday, Feb. 14th, the 100th day of school, the Byron-Bergen Elementary School Student Council delivered 143 bags and several packing boxes filled with additional items to the Genesee County Court Facility in Batavia.

They were met there by Genesee County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Board Chair Barbara Hale.

“It’s overwhelming,” Hale said. “It’s more than I could possibly have imagined.”

The spring community service project is an annual event at Byron-Bergen Elementary School, traditionally aligning with the 100th Day of School celebrations.

In the past they have raised money and collected items to benefit local non-profits, charity organizations, and, last year, the Genesee County Sheriff Department’s K-9 unit.

This year’s project was introduced by Ashley Greene, executive director of CASA.

“A child going into the foster care system is not a planned event and so, quite often, children do not have the opportunity to pack their own belongings, and might show up in a foster home with just the clothes they were wearing that day,” Greene said. “This certainly can be frightening and confusing at the time for them. And what you’ll be providing them is a bit of comfort and sense of belonging.”

Hale accepted the busload of bags and boxes on behalf of CASA.

“I just know that our children are going to be so happy to get something like this from the Byron-Bergen students,” Hale said.

Below, Byron-Bergen Elementary School officers, from left, Maryn Meier, Emma Matthews, Grace Mundell and Rena Wilson.

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.

Courthouse event highlights foster care

By Howard B. Owens

Representatives of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and other community groups were at the courthouse this afternoon to raise awareness, in particular, of foster care programs.

CASA set up 60 cardboard life-size cutouts representing children in foster care.

Pictured below are Tara Pariso, director of CASA, and Amanda Rissinger and Mary Shaughnessy.

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