It’s going to take more than just talk to figure out a major funding need of the Hancock County Department of Job and Family Services. It’s a problem, after all, that voters refused to fix May 8 and isn’t likely to get better anytime soon.
The agency, which provides a variety of services for county residents, is getting $974,000 from the county this year for child services. About half has already been paid, but this week officials requested the remaining $450,000 of the 2018 appropriation, because foster care and adoption services costs, as predicted, have drained the account earlier than expected.
HJFS Director Diana Hoover had warned of a coming budget shortfall earlier this year, which led to Issue 7 being placed on the countywide primary ballot. The 1.2-mill property tax request would have provided $2.3 million a year for 10 years to help cover the still-rising child and senior protective care costs.
But the matter was soundly rejected by voters earlier this month, placing the burden back in the hands of the Hancock County commissioners.
There seems to be little wiggle room for future funding. Commissioner Brian Robertson suggested that just to pay the rest of this year’s appropriation ahead of schedule may require some juggling of other county-controlled funds.
The problem, though, won’t end with the early request. Next year, HJFS is likely to need even more local funding to meet growing demand in the child protective services division.
Already this year there have been 57 child services-related complaints filed in juvenile court, compared to 54 for all of 2017. There have been 18 adoptions so far this year, compared to just 10 last year. Currently, there are 56 children in foster care, and the average cost per child is $30,000 a year.
Something must give.
One suggestion is to have “community conversations” to better understand why Issue 7 was defeated. While such discussions could be helpful prior to any future tax request, it won’t solve the more immediate problem.
Though the situation puts the commissioners in a bind, it appears the state is the one that has clearly dropped the ball. Lawmakers should address Ohio’s inadequate funding formula for child services. The state is last among the 50 states in the amount it provides local governments for children services, at a time when it is in the top five in opioid-related deaths — one of the main drivers of child services. Of the $1.7 million budgeted this year in Hancock County, state and federal funding provided less than half.
Hancock County is not alone. About half of the counties have passed tax levies in recent years as a way to deal with the rising need for funding. HJFS was attempting to do just that, for the first time.
The funding problem must be viewed as a high priority. Child protective care is just one of the many services that JFS is entrusted with providing. The agency doesn’t get to pick and choose its “customers.”
Children who end up in foster care, either short or long term, arrive there for a variety of reasons, because of parental drug or criminal problems, sexual abuse or other family dysfunction. When a child is removed from their natural parents, it takes compassionate foster care families who are willing to open their doors to help. In turn, those families are compensated a portion of the cost of extending their own family.
The bottom line is, if voters won’t support children and protect seniors through increased taxes, then someone else still must. The onus may be on the commissioners, but it’s the entire community’s problem to solve.
Talking about the failed levy may help explain what happened, but it won’t solve the problem. One way or another, that will take money.