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Cass County Board: Gaalswyk: Changes in child protection to 'explode' county costs

Cass County Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk called the $108,000 "woefully inadequate." "It's going to explode the county costs," he said, citing additionally that the state requires a county attorney's office representative and a sheriff's deputy, working jointly with a social worker, to screen children to determine whether they live in a safe environment or not. Illustration.

WALKER - Reno Wells, Health, Human and Veterans Services director, obtained Cass County Board approval Tuesday to hire one additional case aide and one additional child protection social worker.

This comes in response to new state legislation requiring counties to provide more services to ensure children are safe in their own homes or are removed to a safe environment if their home is not safe.

Wells said Cass already is seeing a rise in child out-of-home placement costs this year as more children remain in placement longer and, because the state's requirements now emphasize looking first at safety rather than keeping a family together.

There also is the problem of finding enough adoptive parents when children cannot return to their original family home, he said.

Because the state will require all counties to have a higher ratio of workers to children, Wells said there will be a statewide shortage of case aides and social workers. Hennepin County alone will need to hire more than 100 workers, he said.

New state definitions of child safety make more children qualify for protection, according to Michelle Piprude, social services supervisor.

Cass County is scheduled to receive $108,000 from the state this month to help cover costs for additional staff, but Wells said this will not fully cover the county's costs.

Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk called the $108,000 "woefully inadequate." "It's going to explode the county costs," he said, citing additionally that the state requires a county attorney's office representative and a sheriff's deputy, working jointly with a social worker, to screen children to determine whether they live in a safe environment or not.

When the state begins regulating a service such as this to the degree they are, even down to the ratio of workers to clients, County Administrator Robert Yochum suggested maybe the state should consider taking over the function of child protection services instead of directing the counties to provide the services and local costs appear open ended.

Wells said he plans to try to shift money within his budget this year to cover the county share of the two new employees, but he warned, if the county does not meet all the criteria the state is still developing, the county may not qualify for all the potential state aid designed to help pay for county costs.

Through May, Cass' overall HHVS expenditures ran slightly under budget projections, but out-of-home child placements had hit 64 percent of budget projections after 41.67 percent of the year. The county's share of those costs was 69 percent of budget expectations.

Cass had spent $1,546,150 through May on out-of-home placements. Of that $1,319,150 came from county tax levy.