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Lebanon County Children & Youth costs continue to soar

Written by John Latimer, Lebanon Daily News | Sep 8, 2015 2:30 PM
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Jim Holtry (center), director of Lebanon County Children and Youth Services, explains to the Lebanon County commissioners how the agency, which includes Juvenile Probation, went over its budget by 1.3 million this year, as President John C. Tylwalk and Chief Probation Officer Sally Barry listen. (Photo by John Latimer, Lebanon Daily News)

(Lebanon) -- The past year has been another expensive one for Lebanon County Children & Youth Services.

The agency, which investigates cases of child abuse and neglect, reported cost overruns of more than $1 million in 2014-15.

The Children and Youth Services budget is a combination of its operational costs for investigating and providing services for abuse and neglected children, and the cost of operating Juvenile Probation. In 2014-15, the state certified its budget at $7.7 million but actual expenses topped $8.7 million, director Jim Holtry told the Lebanon County commissioners last week.

The county share of the cost overrun was $922,000, but Holtry said he will appeal to the state in the expectation that it will offset the increase.

"As I have done previously, I will file an appeal to the state," he told the commissioners. "If we would win that appeal their part of that would be $791,629, which would bring the county over expenditure to $130,871."

About half of the $ 1 million cost overrun was attributed to C & Y's portion of the budget and included $190,000 that it contributed for its employees in the county pension fund. That is a new line item which had not been part of the agency's budget in previous years but must now be included for the county to be eligible for state reimbursement of as much as 80 percent.

Another reason C & Y exceeded its budget, Holtry explained, was the extra workload caused by the state's new and more vigorous child abuse reporting law which went into effect in January. That added about $135,000 to the agency's bottom line, he said.

The other half million dollars in cost overruns was attributed to Juvenile Probation for the dispensation of punishment and treatment of serious juvenile offenders.

"That was mainly due to increases in juvenile placements for juveniles needing secure residential settings for sex offenses and juveniles who propose a substantial risk to the community," Holtry said.

The most serious juvenile offenders make up about 5 percent of the case load but account for about 50 percent of the cost to Juvenile Probation, Chief Probation Officer Sally Barry said.

The cost overrun in the department would have been even higher if the county had not established two community-based treatment programs for juvenile offenders which serve as an alternatives to sending them to expensive residential detention centers, Barry told the commissioners.

One is a six-month day treatment program operated by Youth Advocate Program in the former Youth for Christ building in North Lebanon Township. At any one time it can provide counseling and treatment for as many at 14 juvenile offenders.

"We use it as an alternative to placement for some juveniles and we use it as a (transitional) step down from placement for other juveniles," Barry said.

The other community-based service used as an alternative to residential detention is called Specialized in-Home Treatment Program, or SPIN, and is for counseling and treatment of juvenile sex offenders.

Barry told the commissioners that a dozen juvenile sex offenders who in the past would have been sent to residential detention centers at a cost of $250 or more per day, were instead sent to the SPIN program, which has a per diem rate of $82.

"All of our numbers, our detention numbers, our residential service numbers, our group homes and our regular residential, were all reduced significantly, by 20 percent or more this past fiscal year," Barry said. "And that's a direct result of us establishing the community-based resources. And we look for those numbers to continue to decrease."

But that doesn't mean the Children and Youth budget will be shrinking. The costs for those receiving services still remain high, and Holtry is predicting similar cost overruns in 2015-16.

For fiscal year 2015-16 the state certified a budget of $7.2 million for C & Y, but Holtry told the commissioners he is projecting actual costs of $8.46 million. He attributed about two-thirds of that $1.26 million overrun to Juvenile Probation and the remainder to C & Y.

With those projections, Holtry predicted the county share will go from $1.76 million to $2.73 million, and will prompt another appeal to the state.

"We won't know until the end of this next fiscal year (June 30), but if those numbers hold true we will file an appeal. And if the state agrees to supplement those over expenditures we could anticipate $697,276, which would reduce the over expenditures for the county to $273,767," he told the commissioners.

In planning for 2016-17, Holtry projected expenditures of $8.4 million. If the state approves that request it would actually decrease the county share to $2 million or $700,000 less than this year, he said.

The county commissioners were prepared for Holtry's report because they have been battling to control C & Y's budget for the past few years, since the state implemented different assessment and treatment protocols for juvenile offenders that significantly increased costs.

"These are painful numbers but a lot of good is being done in a lot of directions, so we are on the right track," said Commissioner Bob Phillips.


This article comes to us through a partnership between Lebanon Daily News and WITF. 

Published in Lebanon, News

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