Plan could add $70M for child services

Ohio’s child welfare system is heavily dependent on local funding sources, with state funds accounting for about 10 percent of total funding. Only 45 of 88 Ohio counties have children’s services levies and federal reimbursements that are tied to local funding, creating disparity between counties with levies and those without.

The proposed Shared Child Welfare Incentive Fund would provide up to $20 million in fiscal year 2014 and $50 million in fiscal year 2015, tied to a county’s level of local resources, to supplement county efforts.

The Public Children Services Association of Ohio, a private nonprofit association of county Department of Jobs and Family Services offices and other child advocates, pitched the idea last week during the release of its biennial factbook on child welfare in Ohio. The group also backs Gov. John Kasich’s plan to expand Medicaid health care coverage to 366,000 low-income Ohioans.

Organization leaders don’t have an amount in mind for the new pool of state money, but said it should reflect local support.

Only three Miami Valley counties don’t have levies — Warren, Miami and Darke counties.

PCSAO executive director Crystal Ward Allen said the money would be used to leverage local coffers, most likely to hire more employees to handle increased caseloads.

Mike Dittoe, spokesman for the Ohio House of Representatives, said the idea is under consideration while House Republicans revamp Kasich’s budget in the coming weeks.

Counties required to spend at least $164 per child, on average, from local sources to be eligible for the money. She said counties without levies would have a tougher time reaching the qualifying level of local support, but counties could make up the difference with sales taxes or other general revenue fund support.

Counties with child services levies spend more per child than those without them, 3 to 1, according to the 2011 PCSAO report. The 45 Ohio counties with levies spent, on average, $165 from local services in 2011. The 43 counties without levies spent, on average, $35 from local services in 2011.

Ward Allen said 100 percent of the child services levies proposed in the past four years have passed.

“When given the opportunity, voters vote to keep children safe and in permanent and stable homes,” Ward Allen said.

The PCSAO analysis found that counties with local levies or flexible federal funds are more likely to find adoptive homes for waiting children. Counties without those funding sources averaged 5 1/2 to 7 1/2 years, while counties with both sourcecs averaged one to 1 1/2 years.

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