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Jefferson County commissioners look at staffing issue

STEUBENVILLE — After looking at the per diems being paid to place dependent, neglected and abused children in out-of-county settings, Jefferson County commissioners decided Thursday it makes more sense for them to hire enough people to adequately staff the McCullough Childrens Home.

But even if they achieve full staffing, Interim Children and Family Services Director Michelle Santin told commissioners they’d still have to renew McCullough’s license and meet new federal accreditation guidelines — a process that could take 12-14 months.

“Anything we can do in house would save us money in the long run, versus sending them out of county for $300 a day, we’ll be better off,” Commissioner Tom Graham said. “And they’ll be closer to their families as well, because the goal is always to (eventually) return them to their homes.”

During Thursday’s meeting, commissioners approved contracts, subject to need, with the Village Network, $336.03 per day; Shelter Care Inc., $183.35; Safe House Ministries, $221; New Beginnings Residential Treatment Center, $264; National Youth Advocate Program, $144.05; Journey Home Foster Care, $135; House of Samuel, $105; Hittle House, $275; George Junior Republic, $360.15; Foundations for Living, $282.50; Cleveland Christian Home, $373.36; Belmont Pines Hospital & RTC, $415; and Adelphoi Village, $339.72.

Santin said not all of the providers are residential care centers. Some, like Journey Home, offer multiple foster homes.

“How many of these contracts could go away or not be utilized as much if we could provide services in county?” Commissioner Dave Maple asked.

“I would say almost half,” Santin said. “Some provide specialized services…there is a need for very, very specialized services.”

Santin said CFS currently has two dependent, neglected and abused children in out-of-county residential treatment centers. Eighteen are at foster homes in Jefferson County, with 27 children in specialized foster homes.

Santin said her office is “trying to recruit additional foster families, pointing out they’ve been using out-of-county foster homes because there aren’t enough locally.

She told commissioners McCullough’s license expires in November, so she needs to submit the documentation by August. Beyond that, Santin said the accrediting agencies have told her the process could take more than a year to complete and could get pricey.

“All three of them said the same thing,” she said. “They can’t give (us) an exact cost … But here’s the thing with credentialing bodies: In order to be credentialed, you have to have children in the facility because part of the credentialing process is to interview the children.”

To be fully staffed, Santin told commissioners they’d need to hire seven people to work alongside the three already on the job. She said the facility could handle 16 children — eight boys and eight girls — at capacity.

While they could accept children into care immediately, Santin said McCullough’s would have to be accredited by October 2024. She said it’s doable, but only if they start the process now.

Commissioner Tom Gentile suggested marketing McCullough’s to other Ohio communities.

“We’ve never really tried to get children from (other) counties,” he said. “Surrounding counties could make the choice to deal with us rather than one of the other entities.”

Graham figures with updates and proper marketing, “we could make it a functional facility so that it would enhance the well-being of children.”

“What’s that worth?” he added. “What’s the life of a kid worth? To me, it’s about doing whatever we can to try and help children. You can’t always look at the dollars and cents. Of course, you can’t go bankrupt doing it, you have to balance it out. But I think we can, once we get it accredited, get it up and running and provide services. We’d take our own first, but if we have openings we’d be able to market it.”

Santin said it costs about $600,000 a year to run McCullough’s, about half of that for staffing. Funding is from state and federal sources as well as a children’s services levy.

“I support it,” Maple said. “I think there’s still a need here, there’s no other outlet for these children … in essence, government has to step in and take care of them at some level. But let’s maximize that number as best we can — let’s try to take care of 16 children and get that average up.”

“I’m not going to disagree with my colleagues,” Gentile added. “But I’m not there yet. I guess one of the factors for me is I would want to feel confident we, as a government entity, a public entity, can provide service to these children better than a private entity could. I think in the field of social services, there are some pretty solid numbers that says government doesn’t do it as well as the private sector.”

Gentile said the economics “are horrible,” and he’d need convincing that they could do a better job than the companies they’ve been contracting with.

“I’d need to see a really solid case that says we can do a better job, and that it would be better for the children and families. I’m not going to bring it down to economics, I’m just saying I’m not there yet.”

“We have some ideological differences,” Graham added. “But I don’t believe just because it’s a private company it’s going to be run better than a public company. A private company will run it in an economic way at bare minimum cost to make money; but government is not in the business of making money, (government) will look at children first not the bottom line dollar.”

Maple figures taxpayers want to see “the best service, the best use for that money.”

“One thing we can all can agree on,” Maple added. “If we’re using taxpayer dollars, spending $600,000 and only able to serve three children, we need to improve that. We need to get that $600,000 to service 16 children.”

But Maple also noted McCullough’s needs updating, not least of which would be new furniture, paint and carpeting.

“Unfortunately it’s been neglected,” Graham said, pointing out they could either upgrade or rebuild. “We’d be talking a significant price to pay to remodel it…but we can do it in phases, we don’t have to do it all at one time.”

Graham said they’d “look at all the options, see what is best for Jefferson County in terms of cost and providing care to children, vs sending children out of county.”

In other business, commissioners renewed the lease for office space for District Court 1 in Toronto, signing off on a three-year agreement with landlord Eugene Calabrese.

Commissioners also appropriated $500 to assist Toronto American Legion Post 86 to assist with Memorial Day expenses, and designated Auditor E.J. Conn or his designee to to register Jefferson County with the Office of Management and Budget’s Coronavirus Relief Funding.

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