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news Park Rapids, 56470

Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

BY Sarah smith

Hubbard County social workers have dedicated their lives to fixing shattered families.

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But as child out-of-home placements rise along with the corresponding costs, a hue and cry is going out.

Why?

In 2012, it cost $991,000 to place Hubbard County kids somewhere other than home.

That was 200 percent above what was budgeted, Social Services Director Daryl Bessler told the board Tuesday, asking to replace a half-time child services worker with a full-time one.

His request turned into a referendum on society’s ills.

“I just want to be sure we’re not putting a Band-Aid on a larger problem,” said Commissioner Dan Stacey, a former social worker and probation officer. “Maybe we need to look at the probation end of it.”

“It is outpacing our costs as a Social Service agency,” Bessler acknowledged. “We are not able to provide the level of service needed. There’s potential liability.”

Commissioner Kathy Grell also wondered “why the sudden influx of out-of-home placements?”

She suggested the county might be better off giving the school district $40,000 to hire a truancy officer.

Bessler explained that in the last year half of the school-home interventionists were cut, along with a truancy tracker.

It’s possible without those eyes and ears, more kids are getting into trouble, he suggested.

Or it could be a spike.

“If you look at 2004 we had as many placements, nearly as many placements in 2004 and 2005 but the cost differential then was we spent $632,000,” Bessler said in an interview after the board meeting.

“In 2005 we spent nearly $1.1 million for an equal amount of placements and in 2012 with slightly more placements than in 2005, we spent approximately $100,000 less. But compared to 2010 we spent 606,000. In 2012 we spent $991,000.”

A full-time employee is needed, he explained, so the county is not constantly short-handed training people in St. Paul. Child care workers suffer high burnout rates and the turnover is constant. Not replacing a staff worker would be detrimental to the workload, Bessler said.

“Other issues are impacting this,” he said. “Obviously drugs and alcohol are a factor. The breakdown of the family is an issue. There’s a lot of issues out there. I don’t know if we’ll be able to fix them all.”

Commissioners initially balked at the hire, suggesting Bessler get to the root of the problem and determine a long-term solution. They suggested he collaborate with schools, probation officers and authorities to try to head off the rising costs.

“I’m giving you my best info,” Bessler told the board. “I’m trying to stop the bleeding, folks. This doesn’t make sense to a simple farm boy.”

Bessler said he was “willing to do all those things,” but first he had to tackle his staff’s workload.

“Our staff is saying we just can’t keep up with the numbers,” he said in the post-meeting interview.

“Last week we had 20 reports. Nine were screened in. That’s a phenomenal number of child maltreatment reports in one week. For those screened in we have to go out and do an assessment. There’s a significant amount of work to that. An assessment ultimately results in going to court and maybe having to get custody and then we have a whole other set of issues.”

As the board debated the hiring, Bessler worried he might lose his part-timer.

“What we really want to do is begin to address that,” he said. “But I didn’t want to lose a half-time worker.

“I’m all for the things that have been suggested like trying to work more closely with schools; clearly we need to do more with our probation department and try to get a better handle on what is going on,” he said.

But the immediate issue was finding the help to deal with the influx of cases.

“My staff is on the frontlines,” he said in the post-meeting interview.

“They know more so than I do what’s happening out there. They’re telling me it’s getting really, really tough. There’s a heck of a lot of things happening out there, they’re getting a lot of reports.

“We have to take them seriously,” he added. “It’s children’s lives that are potentially in the balance. We want to do a good job, avoid liabilities any way we can and not let things happen. But when the volume of activity is getting to the point where they’re telling me they keep up, I have to come for help.”

Bessler said some of the child cases involve sexual predators, which are very expensive to treat. He said it depends on the nature of the cases and how expensive they are to deal with.

In the end the board relented and let him hire a full-time child care worker.

In other business, the board:

• Approved a septic system grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for $20,000 for low income households to upgrade failing septic systems. The board also gave the OK to proceed with septic system changes, using a hybrid combination of old and new rules with input from septic contractors.

• Noted that the March 11 timber auction netted sales totaling $567,729.29 The county voted to more aggressively harvest older stands of aspen starting in 2013.

The board also authorized the apportionment of nearly $600,000 in tax forfeited land proceeds.

Half of those funds go back to the Land Department for forest development and acquisition And maintenance of county parks and recreational areas.

The remaining 50 percent is split between the townships, county revenue funs, cities and school districts.

• Approved a bid of $5,326 to install cameras on transit buses.

• Agreed to fill a deputy vacancy position from a 2008 resignation. A hiring freeze left the position open for five years.

• Heard a pitch by the Chamber of Commerce about the upcoming Governors Fishing Open in May and the plans in progress.

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