Butler County Children Services paid placements in foster care the lowest in memory: Here’s why

Butler County Children Services boasting lowest number of kids in custody that people can recall, and attributing it to intense efforts to work with families so children don't need to be removed. GREG LYNCH/STAFF
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Butler County Children Services boasting lowest number of kids in custody that people can recall, and attributing it to intense efforts to work with families so children don't need to be removed. GREG LYNCH/STAFF

Butler County Children Services officials report there are only 297 children in paid foster care placement, which is the lowest number most officials can remember with multiple programs helping the efforts.

The Butler County commissioners this week approved an additional $447,349 for group home placements for foster children, and Commissioner Cindy Carpenter expressed concern about the large amount.

“We’re not necessarily placing additional children, we are just placing more children in these group homes, so we have other group homes we may not be using but we still have those contract amounts,” Job and Family Services Executive Director Julie Gilbert explained. “We’re just moving money around, our placement numbers are actually at probably the lowest I’ve ever seen them, our paid placements are at 297.”

Back in 2014 the agency went through a complete overhaul because placement numbers were around 500. Officials made changes to the way they manage cases and stepped up the use of other services to help children stay safely at home with their families.

“That’s awesome, 297, that’s the lowest I can ever recall, I think we were at the 490s at one point in time,” Carpenter said after hearing the low number of paid placements.

BCCS is run mainly on its own local tax levy, which brings in $15.3 million annually plus state and federal funding. Chief Financial Officer Barb Fabelo budgeted $31 million in expenditures this year versus an estimated $26 million in revenues. The rest is covered by cash reserves, which she is estimating at around $17.4 million by year’s end.

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She told the Journal-News since they never know moment to moment how many kids will be in their care, they have to budget to the “worst case scenario.”

“What we budget for is a moving target,” Fabelo said. “For example when we budget for contracts we budget for the highest level, at the contract level but we may not expend all of those dollars.”

Placement costs consume nearly half the budget at $14 million for this year. Fabelo said those costs include payments to foster parents, group homes, residential treatment centers and the like, but also expenses for food, clothing, day care and a host of other things.

The agency also contracts with community partners and services to offer families help so they can stay intact if at all possible. Shannon Glendon, newly promoted Children Services director said years of hard work has paid off.

“Many years ago we changed our practice in how we work with families in a way that allows us to engage and front load services with the goal of maintaining children safely in their own homes or with kinship,” Glendon said. “We have been diligent in that practice and we continue to provide programming that supports that practice.”

She listed programs like Family Preservation, which provides intense in-home interaction with families, and the Family Treatment Drug Court for those parents with substance abuse as examples.

Back when the pandemic started and stay-at-home orders were in place, the agency saw a 60.4% drop in calls from people reporting abuse and neglect because outside eyes weren’t on children. The agency had 372 children in custody as of May, 14, 2020.

Things are pretty much back normal now and Gilbert said she doesn’t believe the pandemic is affecting the low in-custody numbers.

“I think first of all it is always our goal to work with families and wrap services around them to avoid placing children in foster care on the front end of cases,” Gilbert said, “I also believe we can attribute this to reunifications. It’s important we’re not bringing kids into care but it’s also that we establish permanency for them as well and part of that is reunifying timely.”