How much will it cost Cuyahoga County to open more beds for children awaiting foster care?

Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 6:20 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Teens denied by residential living facilities because of their mental challenges will soon be able to spend the night somewhere secure, instead of the county’s office building.

An emergency contract approved by Cuyahoga County provides half a million dollars to The Centers for Family and Children to accept up to eight children who are awaiting permanent

A 19 News investigation recently revealed at least 67 teens have spent more than one night in the building so far this year.

Interim Director of Child and Family Services Jacque Fletcher told us The centers’ beds are different in that they can’t refuse a child because of their challenges.

Now, with proposals in place to open beds and pay social workers more, we’re asking how much all of it will cost taxpayers.

Fletcher said, “So, these are County dollars and resources, but we brought all of our child serving systems together to talk about this issue because these are our community’s kids.”

A spokesperson for The Centers tells us it’s not just beds they are providing either. It’s around-the-clock care, food and police officers securing the building.

That’s why the county says it recognizes they will have to come back to the council for more taxpayer money eventually, to keep spaces open in the months ahead.

It is unclear, however, how soon the beds at The Centers will be available.

The CEO of The Centers, Eric Morse, gave us the following statement:

We are encouraged, honored, and humbled by Cuyahoga County Administration’s support for our proposal to provide short-term emergency housing and care for youths at risk. We appreciate the initial awarding of funds to ramp up and begin getting our program ready.

We believe we are offering a unique strategy to care for 12- to 18-year-olds who may have experienced serious trauma and who face significant challenges. Ours is a novel approach called T – Suite, a hotel for teens. This will involve comfortable setting while these teens wait to be placed in their next home. It will include 24/7 residential support to provide for the safety and needs of these young people. It includes a minimum of one team member for every two youths with the option to increase staffing to 1:1 depending on needs; skilled caregivers who will be paid far above the market rate; off-duty plainclothes police officers to help keep children, staffers, and guests safe; and a setting designed to help begin or continue the healing process.

We also want to set realistic expectations for when we can begin this work. We understand the urgency of this situation, but also face the challenges of hiring highly qualified staff and providing all the training needed so that when we open our doors these young people will immediately begin receiving the kind of care that the county and we agree is critical.

That said, we’re also going to move as rapidly as possible to begin accepting children.

A foster and adoptive mother named Cheryl started our recent coverage of what’s going on at Jane Edna.

“We’re not here for a blame game. We’re here to beg for change,” she said.

Because of his violent tendencies and mental challenges, Cheryl’s adoptive son has been staying at the Jane Edna building on and off since March.

“I could not bring him home, because he’s not mentally stable enough to even start to control,” Cheryl said.

He’s been denied by countless residential facilities, both in Cleveland and hours away too.

Cheryl is now using his story to explain to taxpayers why it’s worth the money to have options at places where kids like him can’t be turned away.

“They are going to end up in adult jail. I mean, we are going to end up paying for them forever if you do not change something,” Cheryl said.

Since our interview, Cheryl says her 14-year-old son got arrested again while awaiting placement. So, he’s sitting back in the juvenile detention center right now. There, at least his mom knows he’s not coming and going and he’s less likely to hurt someone else.

But, in his last criminal case, a doctor ruled him incompetent to stand trial, because of his mental challenges.

“If your son isn’t competent, and he’s not competent, they can’t just keep him there,” Cheryl said.

Meaning, if he’s once again ruled incompetent, he will likely need one of those beds opening up at The Centers as he awaits more permanent placement.

Fletcher also talked to us about giving the social workers raises in the near future to retain good employees.

She wouldn’t give us a number there. but that too would obviously cost taxpayers.

Fletcher stressed that she truly believes in also improving the services for families so they can reunite with their children.

If you would like to get involved with supporting families your area, the county has several ways to do that listed on their website.

The state also has several resources available to those who would like to explore becoming a foster parent.