Spike in Cuyahoga County foster care numbers and spending focus of HHSA Committee

The number of children in foster care jumped 20 percent in 2018, one of several facts presented during testimony at the December 5 meeting of the Cuyahoga County Health, Human Services and Aging Committee. The meeting also featured a multiple contract revisions and extensions, issues that have dominated the past two committee meetings.

The first request was to amend a master contract for out-of-home placement and foster care services. Bob Math, of the Cuyahoga County Department of Health and Human Services and Elizabeth Nekoloff of the division of Out-of-Home Care Services for the Department of Children and Family Services, testified in front the committee. The county currently uses a master contract, worth $43 million annually, which includes multiple providers for foster care services. Startlingly, the number of children in foster care has increased 20 percent, or by about 400 children in 2018 alone. More than 2,500 children are currently in out-of-home care. Due to this increase, the money allocated (about $4 million per month) at the beginning of the year is running out. A proposed contract amendment would add $7,069,870 and would fund foster care providers for the remainder of the year. Councilmembers asked Math and Nekoloff for more information about the numbers that they provided. Councilwoman Shontel Brown asked, “what trends do you see? To what do you attribute the increase?” Nekoloff explained that there has been an increase in the number of children in foster care because of the opioid epidemic, but that is not limited to Cuyahoga County. She went on to say such increases are happening across the state. Brown requested that the committee be given a breakdown of foster care placements in the county, broken down by the level of service needs (i.e. some children need more support than others and are harder to place). The contract was passed out of committee under second reading suspension, meaning that the contract did not need to be heard at three straight committee meetings, before being moved to the full council.

The number of children in foster care in Cuyahoga County jumped 20 percent in 2018

The second conversation was the same contract for the division of foster care, but this time a one-year extension for an annual amount of $46,200,000.00 in calendar year 2019. Math and Nekoloff provided testimony for this contract as well. The master contract covers 42 providers, two more than the total number of agencies in 2018. The additional agencies were added to accommodate the additional children who will need foster care. The list of agencies comes from a request for proposals (RFP) that was issued two years ago. Now that the RFP is entering into its last contract year, the process will begin again in spring of 2019, according to Math. Some providers were removed from the contract, but were replaced by others. Chairwoman Yvonne Conwell said she is interested in understanding not just how many children were placed in foster care, but also how many children have left foster care in the past year. Councilwoman Nan Baker asked about how many providers are located outside of Cuyahoga County. Nekoloff said that four providers are located out of town. The contract was passed out of committee under second reading suspension.

The number of children in foster care in Cuyahoga County increased 20 percent, or by about 400 children in 2018 alone. Due to this increase, the money allocated (about $4 million per month) at the beginning of the year is running out.

The third contract was a $3.5 million master contract for 10 agencies for Family Support Services. The purpose of the Family Support Services program is to provide a “safe, stable environment” for at-risk youth and their families. Math once again testified, this time along with Karen Stormann, the Administrator of Support Services for the Department of Children and Family Services (CFS). Math testified that this is a new contract which will begin in January 2019. In his testimony, Math said this “family-centered support services” is a new programmatic approach for the county. Stormann explained that some of the children and families who are involved in this program are not involved in foster care, but rather use this program as a way to try and prevent the removal of a child from the home. If a parent and child have issues (such as if the child is exhibiting behavioral health issues), a caregiver who can provide services to benefit both the child and the parent can be dispatched to the home. For children in the foster care system, this program allows county staff to interact with the child and provide support to the foster family as well. Brown asked for a numerical breakdown in the number of children who will participate in this program with their families, as well as children who participate with their foster families. Stormann said that she would send that information to the committee. Baker asked at what point does the staff member who visits a child as a part of this program, determine that a child is at risk and needs to be removed from the home. Stormann testified that CFS does closely monitor the health and safety of children and always has the children as a priority. Councilman Dale Miller asked if the 10 agencies use their own employees to execute this contract, or if they subcontract out to other organizations. Math said the agencies use their own employees.  The contract was approved under second reading suspension.

Family-centered support services new approach to help children and families prevent the removal of a child from the home.

The next contract was a one-year extension worth $1,741,596 with the Community Social Services Programs (CSSP). Paul Porter, from the Department of Health and Human Services, and Marlene Robinson-Statler, interim Administrator for the Department of Senior and Adult Services, testified about a master contract that provides funding to senior centers across the county. Services provided at these centers include things like congregate meals, dancing and computer classes. Thirty responders initially replied to the April 2018 RFP. Of those 30 applicants, 26 vendors were selected. Councilmembers did not have many questions. Brown wanted to know if there is a cap per service. Porter explained that the county has recommended rates on “per meal, per day or per-trip[s]” during the RFP process, but the county ultimately pays whatever amount the contract winners submit in their responses to the RFP. The county closely monitors the process to ensure that vendors deliver the services they promised to residents. The service is completely funded by the Cuyahoga County Health and Human Service levy. Miller wanted to know the geographic location of the senior centers in the contract, to ensure that there are services being delivered across the county. Robinson-Statler said service is provided in every district of the county except for District 1. The county is currently working with senior organizations in that district for the next RFP. Baker asked if incumbents have an edge, and Porter said they do not. The contract was approved by the committee on second reading suspension.

The next contract presented was a follow up from a presentation made at the last HHSA committee meeting, from the Fatherhood Initiative. At the last meeting, Al Grimes, administrator for the Fatherhood Initiative, asked the committee to approve a one-year extension of a master contract with 11 agencies. The committee approved eight of those agencies, and requested additional information before approving the other three. The remaining three were passed out of the committee under second reading suspension.

A contract was approved for 2019 in the amount of $1,095,450 with United Way of Greater Cleveland for emergency food service. The contract was executed in partnership with the Cleveland Foodbank to distribute food at 37 hunger centers located across the county. Ninety-nine percent of the total cost of this contract goes toward food purchases, and the United Way receives less than one half of one percent for administrative costs associated with this contract.

Finally, a one-year contract extension worth $2,081,638.00 was approved for Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries, to continue to operate the men’s homeless shelter located at 2100 Lakeside Avenue. The $2 million request consists entirely of health and human services levy dollars. Sarah Kray and Michael Sering, representing Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries, testified in front of council explaining that the funding request was approximately two-thirds of the more than $3.2 million overall budget of the shelter.  The contract was approved under second reading suspension.