Butler County continues funding program helping residents despite pandemic challenges

Butler County Children Services coping with the pandemic to keep kids safe and preserve families. GREG LYNCH/STAFF
Butler County Children Services coping with the pandemic to keep kids safe and preserve families. GREG LYNCH/STAFF

Butler County Children Services officials say that despite the coronavirus pandemic, they have been successful keeping families intact when possible.

The county commissioners approved a slight $15,000 increase to the contract with Pressley Ridge, the company that handles the Family Preservation Program, bringing the total to $2.1 million over five years.

Prior to the pandemic, social workers from Pressley Ridge made home visits with families one to five times per week for counseling and advice so children can safely stay in their homes instead of moving into the county’s custody. BCCS Director Julie Gilbert said Pressley Ridge served about 100 families over the past year.

“Our custody numbers have been either flat or going down, and this service is invaluable to us being able to maintain children in their home and keep our placements low,” Gilbert said.

Early on in the pandemic there was a sharp decline in the number of abuse and neglect reports, largely because there were fewer outside eyes on children. Gilbert said intakes have fluctuated throughout the pandemic, spiked recently as things opened up more, and now appear to be leveling off.

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The average number of children in BCCS custody usually hovers between 375 and 400. Job and Family Services Executive Director Bill Morrison said as of last Friday, there were 321 kids in foster care, and 24 were being cared for by relatives.

Angela Sausser, executive director of the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, said the group doesn’t have any recent data, but things were bad during the height of the pandemic.

“Anecdotally I’ve heard from our agencies that especially during the height of the pandemic, while we weren’t seeing as many referrals coming into our hotlines ,the referrals that we were getting at that time were significant abuse, and very challenging complex needs that were coming to our agencies.” Sausser said.

Morrison outsourced the Family Preservation Program in 2016 to Pressley Ridge at a $1.6 million contract cost for four years. By outsourcing the program, the county could bill Medicaid, which was not an option when the program was operated by BCCS social workers.

The county approved the new five-year deal last year, and the annual cost between last April through March 31 this year has been adjusted to $415,671.

BCCS uses a combination of funding sources for the program, including Medicaid, the tax levy and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Morrison explained there were some issues with Medicaid covering Telehealth visits, which Pressley Ridge and other providers employed during the pandemic.

He said the state worked pretty quickly to iron out those issues but “there was some lag time.” He said they told their providers if they weren’t sure a service was Medicaid eligible — because they were having to build new business models “on the fly” — to bill BCCS directly.

“We’d rather they bill it to us because we don’t want people to run into problems with that...,” Morrison said. “The families need to be served no matter what, because if we’re referring them to Family Preservation, that means there’s been consideration of placing the children outside the home.”

Anna Robinson, manager of the Hamilton Pressley Ridge office, told the Journal-News providing their services has been challenging, but the needs of the families they help haven’t really changed much. Their social workers have had to be creative finding family activities so they “can learn to engage” and “alone” time, but their core services are the same.

“We really try to identify what their very specific need is and then develop a treatment plan around that specific need, building on their strengths,” it’s very individualized,” she said. “Over the past year our families have continued to have the same needs, families that we work with struggle during times when there’s not a pandemic so those struggles have continued.”

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