Commissioners hear Children Services report

The quarterly report for Washington County Children Services brought good news to Thursday morning’s Washington County Commission meeting.

“This is probably the most excited I’m ever going to be to speak to the commissioners,” said Flite Freimann, director of Washington County Job and Family Services, which merged with Children Services this year. “This is not just a good news report, it’s a fantastic news report.”

He said in the second quarter, there were 68 investigations involving 158 children. There were only new cases opened for 14 children.

“That’s something we’re really proud of,” Freimann said of the few new cases, adding the investigations are from calls where staff went out to check on the child.

There are a few scenarios with an investigation. Employees could go out and see that the child is “OK,” with no injuries.

“Things are acceptable and we can offer services to the family to make it a better and safer home,” Freimann said.

Some investigations show the calls were unfounded.

“We don’t object to those at all. Better to be safe than sorry,” he said.

In some cases, the child must be removed from the household, but the goal is always to get the child back with its family.

“Children Services is doing an unbelievable job of reuniting and helping families,” Freimann said.

Last quarter, 20 children were placed outside the home – 11 went into traditional foster care, eight went into therapeutic foster care and one went to a residential treatment facility. Thirteen children left foster care, with four going to a relative and nine reunited with their removal caretaker.

“This is the real success, while we’re taking in 20 children, 13 children left foster care. We brought in 13 children and took care of them and we were able to reunite them,” Freimann said. “Three out of every four children that we removed from home went back to the removal caretaker. We were able to work with that family, stabilize the situation, make sure the house was safe, make sure the parents had the necessary parenting skills to make them successful, and returned them.”

On the children they were keeping long-term, they were able to close 10 long-term cases. Five children returned to their removal home, two cases were closed through the family completing goals, two children were placed with a relative and one child turned 18.

“And we had one adoption last quarter,” Freimann said.

He also went over expenses and revenues for the quarter, with two-thirds of the Children Services expenses going for placement costs.

The traditional foster care is $20 per day, while individuals who are institutionalized or are in residential treatment facilities cost $300 to $400 per day, he added.

“Your children services dollars are going to help families,” Freimann explained, noting the operating expenses have drastically declined over the last three months. In April, operational costs were $28,528, in May they were $21,834 and in June they were $11,722.

“These are things not directly related to the protection and care of children and families,” he said. “Through this process, we were able to take away some of these expenses that Children Services was paying by themselves and incorporate them into the entire Job and Family Service budget.”

He said they would like to have operational costs of about $10,000 per month.

“To make sure I’m understanding this correctly, the precipitous drop from $28,000 to $21,000 to $11,000, hopefully to the goal of $10,000, is evidence of state and federal monies,” Commissioner Kevin Ritter asked.

“No, this is shifting costs from Children Services to JFS. What we’re doing is travel costs, so we’re using the county car, this is photocopier costs, pens, paper, pencils, the things that, the $28,000 wasn’t unreasonable, and it’s not that there was a single inappropriate expenditure, but JFS is over here buying photocopy paper and Children Services is buying photocopy paper,” Freimann explained. “JFS can buy more photocopy paper with our budget and can share that out so that more Children Services dollars can go toward children and not buying copy paper or anything else. That’s real cost savings.”

He said that about 60 cents on every dollar comes from county taxpayers through the levy, noting it costs around $300,000 per month to run children’s services.

A snapshot of Children Services from Wednesday shows that there are 77 children in Children Services custody, with 29 in traditional foster care, 29 in therapeutic foster care, three in a group home, 10 in residential treatment and six placed with family.

Children Service also has $383,288 in cash on hand, which Freimann said represents about one month’s worth of expenses.

“Our goal would be to have about $600,000 cash on hand. We need to make sure we have enough cash on hand to pay two full months. We can’t ask foster parents to take on costs and not have revenue. We certainly can’t ask our staff to go to work and not get paid,” he said. “We’d really like to be at two months cash on hand. Anything more than that is a bit excessive and isn’t a good use of taxpayer dollars.”

In other commission news:

• The commissioners voted to transfer the liquor permit from Miller AM PM to Par Mar Oil. As it was a change of ownership, the board tabled the request for 30 days for public comments.

• Bruce Kelbaugh, Washington County Board of Health president, spoke to the commissioners about a phone line that goes to a unit at the health department which stores about $43,000 in vaccines. There is a monitor that keeps track of the temperature of the unit and if the temperature reaches a certain level, it auto-dials someone, he said. He was concerned that the bill for that phone line would no longer be paid, as the commissioners were not happy with recent price increases for the AT&T phone line.

President David White said the charges for the phone line have drastically increased, which is why the county has mostly gone to a Voice Over IP system.

“This is what has happened. AT&T has skyrocketed these things by 1,000 percent,” White said. “It’s gone from $340 a month a little over a year ago to $2,000 a month now. It’s $26,000 a year for that line and I believe, and this is something I did ask our IT director, there are other technologies available that can cover that.”

He said there are services available that would most likely be less expensive than the $340 a month. He said the phone lines would not be cut off, they just needed to find something less costly as soon as possible.

Kelbaugh also spoke to commissioners about health commissioner Dick Wittberg asking for the commission to terminate the AmeriCorps grant through the health department and give it to his new nonprofit organization, Community Health Improvement Associates.

“I would ask that, respectfully, the board not take any action on that until the board of health can do a complete review. It appears to be a ball of yarn and I’m still searching for the other end,” Kelbaugh said. “If you can grant us that, I’d appreciate it.”

White said the commissioners have not discussed the grants, but he agreed that they should take a “wait and see” attitude.

“We are on the hook. We are the recipient of this grant and in fact, my name is on those,” White said. “I’m very much concerned whether those would be terminated or what would happen to them. I even want to check the legality of what’s going to happen.”

Kelbaugh said he didn’t have a good handle on the grant, but he said he would like time to research it.

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.