There are various reasons a child may wind up in the Sullivan County Foster Care System. For instance, a parent may be incarcerated, or the child may have delinquency issues. Whatever the reason, when a child enters the system, he or she must sometimes be housed out of the county.
During a wide-ranging discussion at the government center on April 4, Randy Parker, the commissioner of the Division of Health and Family Services, told lawmakers, “The object is, and this is nationally and statewide, that all the regulations, rules, requirements are to maintain that child in their own home with their mom or dad. When the office or the court deems that is no longer safe, you are then obligated, regulated, mandated to look at the least restrictive, most family-like setting.”
There are various levels of foster care, with graduated degrees of restriction and cost, generally with the more restrictive being the more costly. The least restrictive is a foster care home in the county, and the most restrictive is called a secure residential facility. A bit of controversy arose several months ago when Parker began to “step down” children from more highly restrictive facilities to less restrictive ones, which in some cases meant moving the child from one facility to another.
There are about 77 children currently in the system. Parker said, “We have more than half of our population in something other than the least restrictive, most family-like setting, so we have kids all over the state at very high levels of care. On 44 kids, we were spending $5 million, on the remainder of the kids we are spending $220,000 with our local foster homes, which we’ve not given an increase to in five years.”
Material prepared for the presentation said it is detrimental for children to have extended placement in the more restrictive residential facilities, which can lead to “long-term negative effects.” Parker said the county has a desperate need for more foster care homes.
Parker reported he and the deputy commissioner have communicated with some of the facilities and said, “The first step is to get the kids out of the residential facilities, step them down to group homes and therapeutic foster homes with the goal of, by the end of the school year, having them back at home in Sullivan County, or in a foster home in Sullivan County.”
Another concern that had been brought forward by Sandy Shaddock, business agent for Teamsters Local 445, which represents many county employees, was that Parker had not renewed contracts with many of the facilities that had previously provided foster care residency.
Parker explained that in going over the contracts, it was discovered that 21 of them had not been utilized in the past three years, and that continuing the contracts led to a lot of administrative work in an office that previously had five employees, but because of cutbacks now has only one employee. He noted that should the need arise, he has the authority to renew any of the contracts if necessary.
Legislator Cindy Gieger said that made “perfect sense.”
Legislator Jonathan Rouis said he is in favor of saving money whenever possible, but in this case it should be done with “an abundance of caution.” He said, “I don’t ever want it to be the position… that we placed somebody, in an effort to save money, in the wrong setting, and didn’t provide” the necessary resources to the department for the proper placement.