Children’s Services Year Two: Cost of housing kids in crisis skyrocketing


It has been two years since the merger of two of Scioto County’s most public-facing agencies, Children’s Services and Job and Family Services. While there has definitely been progress, it is clear there are still shortcomings in the system.

Scioto County Children’s Services was merged with Job and Family Services in July 2022 after a number of local children died as a result of neglect or abuse. The county took on the responsibility of running the agency directly, whereas in its previous incarnation Children’s Services had been run by an appointed board.

The director of the combined agency, Tamela Moore Morton, gave an update to the Scioto County Commissioners Tuesday.

“Do we still have challenges to over come? You bet we do,” Morton said. “We’re not where I want us to be. However, we’re in a much better place than we were two years ago, and a better place than where we were last year.”

The number of children in care of Scioto County Children’s Services has reduced by more than 40 percent in the two years since the merger. On July 1, 2022, there were 407 children who in the custody of Children’s Services. Morton calls that an “astronomical number for a medium-sized county with the funding streams we have.”

As of Tuesday, there were 232 children in the custody of Children’s Services. Not all children are in facilities, but some have special needs and mental health issues that can be addressed only in environments outside of kinship care or local foster.

The agency has recently asked the Commissioners to approve an additional $500,000 to tide it over until the second part of the tax levy funds is released. The reason for the shortfall is the unregulated and skyrocketing cost of housing children in care.

The cost of housing children in the agency’s custody last year was $7.7 million. Through May of this year, the county has paid $3.3 million and the total for 2024 is on course for $8 million. The cost per child has gone from approximately $1,800 in 2023 to $2,800 this year.

Davis said the problem of such housing costs is not just in Scioto County, but is being seen in rural counties statewide.

“That alone is a huge increase and I told the governor this over a year ago that this is the next pandemic,” said Scioto County Commission Chair Bryan Davis. “We’ve got to get this under control and here we are. Well, we’ve been here. The state has to recognize this in an appreciable way. Turning blind eye to this … it’s immoral. it’s unethical.”

The regulation of housing providers for children in care is a top priority for counties, particularly those whose populations are affected by the opioid crisis like Scioto County. Whereas legislation has been passed to regulate the funding of drug rehabilitation centers, the same has not been done for children, who are often the ones most affected by their family’s battles with opioids.

Commissioner Scottie Powell, who has a background in the regulated nursing home industry, said that is what has been left by the wayside. It may well bankrupt counties like Scioto trying to do best by the children in their care.

“There’s no guardrails on the system,” Powell said. “So until the state steps in and puts guardrails on the system …that doesn’t exist here, and yet this is all taxpayer money. It sounds like (housing providers) have carte blanche to say ‘we’re gonna bump it, best of luck to you.’”

Inflation also plays a part.

“The facilities where we place these children have jumped on board with that with both feet,” Morton said.

Morton said turning around the agency is facing several struggles—including funding and low-staffing levels—and points to the possibility of finally exiting crisis mode in three to five years.

“We still have a ways to go. I get impatient because I want it now. I want staffing to be there and the training and keeping the children safe to move along flawlessly, but unfortunately, that’s still a struggle,” she said.

Reach Lori McNelly at [email protected] or at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1928. © 2024 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

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