WALKER-Probation Director Jim Schneider and Michele Piprude, Health, Human and Veterans Services director, reported to Cass County commissioners on the county's out-of-home placements Tuesday, April 2.
Their report on 2018 screening team activities was followed by a report from Mindy O'Brien, superintendent of Northwest Minnesota Juvenile Center at Bemidji. Piprude said HHVS employees screen children being placed in care outside their own homes on a daily basis. Those children being placed outside their homes for 30 days or more get reviewed more intensely by a multi-department screening team.
That team includes Commissioner Jeff Peterson, Schneider and Piprude, plus a representative from the sheriff's department, county attorney's office, probation, Leech Lake Band and a health care professional and a guardian ad litem.
Local property tax dollars pay the vast majority of costs to place children outside their own homes. For this reason, many counties are struggling to cover escalating costs. Cass' costs have remained relatively stable. In 2016, they ran $2,522,767 dropping in 2017 to $2,293 and rising again to $2,343,646 in 2018. Piprude attributed this to the effectiveness of the screening team and to the fact that in 2008, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe assumed management and costs for and management of placements for their enrolled members.
From 2016 through 2018, the Cass screening team evaluated 167 children. The highest numbers were placed outside their own home for neglect, followed by mental health issues, with a few for behavior problems or because of abuse.
The majority were under age 15. Almost equal numbers of boys and girls were screened each year. Most were white, with some being American Indian and a very few black. Of the 167 put into placement for over 30 days, 62 were discharged and have not returned to placement. Those returning to placement either committed a new crime, were found to be a public safety risk, had recurring mental health problems, became unmanageable at home or neglect or abuse by their parents or guardian resurfaced.
Cass County is a member county of Northwest Minnesota Juvenile Center and as such gets about a $30 to $35 reduced rate for youths who are sent there for correctional placement. Its costs run about mid-range for youth correctional services in the state.
As a member of Northwest, Cass pays $237 a day for secure facility detention, $227 per day for non-secure detention, $225 per day for residential treatment, $222 per day for group home services and $227 per day for a 35-day evaluation. O'Brien said youths come to their facilities either because they broke the law or because they pose a threat to themselves or others, but are not delinquent.
Though Northwest takes children as young as 10, the vast majority come to them between the age of 14 and 17, O'Brien said. In 2018, 68 were American Indian, 21 were white, and five each were black or Hispanic. The facility admitted 138 youth in 2016. The number declined in 2017 to 118 and again in 2018 to 99.
O'Brien said she has been trying to work with children to enable more of them to qualify for the non-secure services. She has added a full-time mental health worker and a new American Indian cultural adviser. She also added a suicide prevention program.
She said she finds more serious mental health issues with the youths who come to Northwest today.