Take time to make the right call

A recent proposal to combine Washington County’s Children Services and Job and Family Services agencies may have promise, but it’s not an agreement we should rush into.

As the opioid epidemic rages on, there are more children who need to to be placed and higher costs to do so. Children Services does not have all the funding they need to properly handle the tidal wave that has hit them.

Last year, there were 144 children in care, up from 50 in 2006. The agency couldn’t cover $57,533 of July’s placement costs.

Flite Freimann, director of the county’s Job and Family Services, approached the county commissioners last week with a plan to merge the two agencies, a move he said would give financial relief to Children Services.

It may. But the concern we have is with some other numbers, namely the number 15. That’s how many days Freimann was giving the commissioners and Children Services board and leadership to arrive at a decision, saying he needed an answer before Sept. 1, the start of a new fiscal year. He made the presentation to the commissioners on Aug. 16, when the Children Services director was on vacation, and only met with the Children Services board itself on Wednesday. That’s nine days before he was expecting a decision on the matter.

The other number we have a problem with? Eight.

That’s how many months Freimann has been the director of Job and Family Services. While this proposal may ultimately be a good scenario, we think Freimann may need more time at the helm of his agency before knowing whether it can withstand taking on a second entity successfully.

There is some relief on the way for Children Services, with a foster care placement levy going into effect next year, bringing in $817,000 a year for five years. However, it can’t be used for administrative costs, which totaled $437,845 for the agency in the last quarter, with only $107,597 in federal reimbursement. Freimann has said JFS would help seek extra avenues of funding and a merged department may create more efficiency, as sometimes clients are the same.

Children Services will need some additional funding, and we’re not discounting a merger. The majority of Ohio’s counties have already done so.

Still, before approaching the county, it seems more homework should be done by all parties involved, and that there should be more communication between them as well. Members of the Children Services board seemed surprised by the plan at last week’s commission meeting.

We shouldn’t make moves or cut programs just to save money. We have to consider community needs. That’s something that just can’t be done in a matter of days.

This might be the long-term solution but Freimann can’t expect an answer in such a short term. To do so would be irresponsible.

So we hope the answer the commissioners give Freimann on this is a firm maybe, as they take the time to truly explore the benefits and impacts. Maybe next year, but not by Sept. 1.