Pennsylvania is plagued with a lack of available facilities for community-based placement (CBP) of juvenile offenders who require post release supervision. 

The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic along with other factors are pinching fiscal budgets of social agencies like Lebanon County Children and Youth Services (LCCYS) and causing caseworkers to scramble to find placement centers for these youths, according to LCCYS administrator Erin Moyer. 

Moyer told Lebanon County Commissioners on Thursday that while her agency had underspent, overall, in fiscal year 2020-21, it had overspent by 2 percent in community-based placement services. 

That additional spending triggered a state law that requires her agency to file a budget amendment when a service is overspent by more than 10 percent. In this case, her agency was overspent by $454,347, or 12 percent, in fiscal year 2020-21.

“(These are) placements due to large provider increases that weren’t budgeted for, since we do our budget a year ahead,” said Moyer when citing one of the causes of the increased spending. “And we’ve had an overall increase in placement of children and youth.”

In answering a question from County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, Moyer said her agency is able to move funds internally since overall spending was down. But, she added, approval of a budget amendment is required before those funds can be shifted. Being under budget overall means no additional county funding is needed to cover the additional CBP spending, Moyer said. 

When asked by county administrator Jamie Wolgemuth what factors triggered this additional demand in spending, Moyer answered: “A lot.”

“And we’re going to be seeing this being a common theme moving forward,” noted Moyer. “Right now, the state of child welfare and child placement is really bad.”

Moyer said that a lot of facilities have closed because insurance rates are so high for their liability insurance, and they are also unable to hire the necessary staff.

These employee shortages have rippled across the commonwealth and beyond, causing county agencies to compete for the precious few providers who are still offering CBP services.

Read More: County’s juvenile detention capacity expanded through regional agreement

“The facilities that we still have up and running are charging a really high per diem to take kids and they’re being very, very selective in the kids they are taking,” said Moyer. “So this is putting a lot of pressure on our agency.  For most kids, having to call up to 40 to 50 placements to even find a placement willing to take a child.”

Moyer added this dilemma is in stark contrast to the way it used to be. 

“It used to be that we’d find placements for kids that met their individual needs but currently it is whatever placement facility will take them – which is a really sad state of child welfare in Pennsylvania,” said Moyer. “So we’ve addressed this with the state in hopes that they’ll do some sort of overhaul, because it’s just not our county but every county in Pennsylvania that’s struggling.”

With no answers on the horizon, it would appear that higher CBP costs are to be expected.

“We’re going to see this increased cost in provider increases and, unfortunately, we’re probably going to see an increase in kids placed too due to the increase in the homeless population, the housing market and a lot of things that are factoring into this,” said Moyer. “I think this is a little bit residual from the pandemic, still, but I’m afraid this is going to continue, unfortunately.”   

After the amendment was unanimously approved, Moyer also presented third quarter invoices for fiscal year 2021-22, an agreement for a child welfare data sharing agreement, and a contract proposal with Northampton County-based Juvenile Justice Center (JJC) to provide bed space for juvenile offenders.

The commissioners approved third quarter LCCYS invoices in the amount of $1,703,270, the Child Welfare Information solution data sharing agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, and an initial rate of $290 per day with Northampton County’s JJC to provide 24-hour juvenile housing. Moyer noted that the JJC’s rate increase was $10, which is one of the lowest increases her agency has recently encountered.

The JCC agreement also includes charges of $450 per psychiatric evaluation, $75 per psychiatric check-up, and $420 for every risk assessment analysis provided by JCC staff. 

In other county business, the commissioners: 

  • Approved two new grant cycles for funding for the district attorney’s office to cover expected costs for additional office furniture, cubicles, etc., for an expected move to new offices within the county’s municipal building. 
  • Agreed to an amendment to the 2021 Lebanon County Jail-based MAT program to provide a new resource in positive recovery solutions for inmate treatment. 
  • Heard a presentation for the second quarter performance of the county’s pension fund from Stifle, the company that manages the county employee’s retirement portfolio.
  • Granted a liquid fuels application to Heidelberg Township for $4,069 towards an overall seal coating job estimated at $33,127.
  • Signed an easement agreement with Met-Ed for the new 911 Center in case underground access is needed at county facilities.  
  • Approved the treasurer’s report, various personnel transactions, including the hiring or rehiring of 13 individuals at Lebanon County Prison, and the minutes of their August 4 meeting. Litz noted that the county’s prison correctional officer complement is nearly back to normal following a massive downturn during the pandemic. 

Read More: LCCF union rep raises concerns about critical correctional officer shortage

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; and Lancaster...