Cuyahoga County Commissioners are calling the budget crisis the worst in 50 years. It's touched all of the county's departments, but some have been hit especially hard. During a recent commissioners' meeting it was revealed Children and Family services deficit for the second quarter of 2002 exceeded $24 million. That's the largest total among all of the offices. But through a series of meetings and strategic moves the department says they will be able to overcome the crisis, while maintaining their focus on the children. ideastream's Tarice Sims reports.
Tarice Sims: Foster Mother Quo Vadis Ellison has been caring for children in Cuyahoga County for 27 years. During that time she's helped raise over 200 kids. Right now she has 5 in her custody all of them under the age of six. The foster mom says taking on such a responsibility is challenging you have to get to know the child and you never know how long they may be in your care.
Quo Vadis Ellison: It depends on the family situation, for instance the one the six year old I have right now we're looking for relatives. And probably she may go with the grandmother in a couple days.
TS: Ellison is also the head of the foster parent association. Recently there's been talk of major cut backs in the area of Children and family Services to help ease the budget crisis. Ellison heard from several parents just this week who are worried the County may cut the money they get for caring for foster kids.
QVE: We spend a lot of money out of our pockets too. It's really not enough but it helps. Our utility bills are higher our grocery bills are higher and the maintenance of our home because things get broke and it's not replaced by county we have to pay for maintenance.
TS: The Department of Children and family Services pays parents affiliated with Agency Foster Homes between $18 and $20 a day per child. Network Foster Homes, which are those that place kids through private agencies, get between $28 and $59 for custodial care. The rate increases for children with specialized needs.
Recently Cuyahoga County revealed children and family services now carries a $24 million deficit. Jim McCafferty is Director of the department. He says they might have to adjust the rates foster parents are paid to balance the budget.
Jim McCafferty: We're in negotiations with our contract providers about a sibling rate and a cut in foster care rate there. We're looking at every contract and we're looking at everywhere that we spend money. We're looking at what our mandates are what we have to do is there anything that's extra. And also trying to balance that against what would the harm be.
TS: Since former director Bill Denihan left staff has been significantly cut. The department went from 1,257 employees to the current number of 1,080. But the county only budgeted for 1,025 staff members for 2002. Still people continue to leave some are taking the early retirement package others simply find other jobs. Either way those that are left behind are feeling the impact. Sally McHugh is a social worker in the Sex Abuse Unit. She says there have been three retirements in her department and they won't hire to fill those positions. That means her work loan will increase
Sally McHugh: You list your priorities so you don't want to leave a child in danger. So you just kind of do what you have to do. My supervisor is pretty supportive to work with me, co-workers we help each other out if somebody needs help.
TS: And McHugh says without that support it would be hard to maintain the level of service. The department stopped paying overtime although they offer comp time for emergency situations. Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim McCormack says it takes roughly $190 million of the county's money to run Children and Family services. But now they are working on solutions that won't have too much of an impact on employees, but rather the biological parents of the children in need of care. The Commissioners says he wants to charge them for childcare.
Tim McCormack: If it's a credit card company you can garnish wages. So what I've asked McCafferty is cost recovery as a means of holding people responsible for their failures to their children. And should the entire rest of the community have to pay one hundred cents on the dollar for what they have done to their child.
TS: McCormack says while the priority of the County government is preservation of life they also have to take immediate action to deal with the $80 million deficit.
TM: We may well have to announce some significant layoffs and or very significant reduction in work week. There isn't any way that we are going to balance that budget without real pain. And the balance or the budget is so imbalanced right now that if we go into this next year those who are old enough remember when Cleveland defaulted if we do not take these steps the bigger government the regional government the county government will default.
TS: McCormack says the hard deadline to make those decisions for the County is September 4th. Meanwhile Children and Family Services will continue to talk with social workers and other staff to try and find ways to decrease their deficit while caring for the children who are need of their services. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3.