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Cuyahoga County Council focuses on foster care, basic services in budget negotiations

Members of the Cuyahoga County Council discuss the upcoming 2024-2025 budget
Stephen Langel
Ideastream Public Media
From left to right: William Tarter, Jr., Center for Community Solutions policy fellow, Katie Gallagher, Cuyahoga County chief of operations and community innovation, Walter Parfejewiec, Cuyahoga County Office of Budget Management director, Yvonne Conwell, Cuyahoga County Council, Health, Human Services, and Aging Committee chair and Dale Miller, Cuyahoga County Council Finance Committee chair, gather to discuss the upcoming 2024-2025 budget negotiations.

Cuyahoga County councilmembers plan to focus, among other topics, on increased staffing at both the Division of Children and Family Services and Job and Family Services during upcoming biennial budget negotiations, members said at a August 29 panel discussion.

Health and Human Services Committee Chair Yvonne Conwell said Children and Family Services needs additional funding for staff in order to help the more than 2,000 foster children in their care.

"We have community partners that have staff shortages," she told Ideastream Public Media. "So they can't take the kids from our building and place them in a residential setting because they do not have the proper funding or the proper staff."

Cuyahoga County Finance Committee Chair Dale Miller agreed that more funding was needed to help these children.

"The question of how to place children who are in our custody is my biggest concern," he said. "We've made tremendous efforts, but we have not resolved the problem and we still have children who who need to be served."

Both councilmembers added they planned to work with Children and Family Services Director Jackie Fletcher on preventative measures to help foster families cope with any behavioral issues early on to prevent these children from leaving foster homes and re-entering the government system.

"We can have the schools and everyone that's in the community start identifying these families that are having trouble before the kids come into our care," Conwell said.

At the same time, the county still needs to take care of children who are already in the system, who are unable to stay with foster families for any length of time due to behavioral or other issues, she said.

"At the core of it all is the trauma that they live with, that their family doesn't want them," Conwell said.

Miller said more than funding will be necessary to help these children.

He said it is important "to find and provide ... trauma-based mental health care ... to help children get on the right path early before the problems become so severe. ... It's a matter of providing finding the right treatments and the right programs and having the right awareness among people in many systems, in the schools and in the children's programs and among the juvenile justice system."

Miller added, "Everybody needs to be aware of these things and have a better understanding of of of what to do to help help children early in the process get back on the right track."

He said staffing problems also extend to Job and Family Services as a lack of staff has meant longer wait times to determine eligibility for needed services.

“There's people who need to determine their eligibility for Medicaid and for food stamps and for childcare and other basic services and have a hard time getting through on the phone and on the online system to get their questions answered and their issues resolved,” he said.

Negotiations will begin in October when County Executive Chris Ronayne presents his proposed $1.6 billion budget for 2024 to 2025.

Stephen Langel is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media's engaged journalism team.