The number of Door County children in out-of-home placements such as foster care has roughly doubled this year compared to last year, in large part due to mental health and addiction issues among parents, leaders of the county Health and Human Services (HHS) department said this week.
Child welfare reports, which include reports of parental abuse or neglect, have been on the rise in recent years in Door County. They reached an all-time high in 2021, far exceeding the previous record, which was set in 2019.
The numbers of the most extreme cases, such as those with what the county calls formal interventions (when a court sometimes is involved) and out-of-home placements, have been increasing even more rapidly. The number of cases with formal interventions roughly tripled from 2018 to 2021.
The overall number of child welfare reports is down this year from 2021, with 336 reports from January through September, according to HHS data. That puts the county on pace for 448 total reports this year, down from 592 last year.
But cases with formal interventions and the number of children in out-of-home placements have continued to rise.
There have been 28 cases from January through September of this year with court interventions, said Vivian Grair, the HHS department’s child and family services unit supervisor, in an email. That matches the total for all of 2021.
HHS department leaders on Monday presented overview data on out-of-home placements to the county’s Health and Human Services Board. The department tracks out-of-home placements in both child welfare cases and youth justice cases. Youth justice cases involve minors who have committed juvenile offenses.
This year, the department has had an average of 33 children in out-of-home placements each month, said Cori McFarlane, the department’s deputy director. Last year, that number was 17 per month on average.
Cases also are getting more complex. The department has seen children in foster care and other out-of-home placements for longer periods of time, McFarlane said, in many cases because parents are undergoing treatment for addiction, which can take months. It also is seeing larger sibling groups needing out-of-home placement, she said.
The county also has had to place more children in higher levels of care, McFarlane said, with more placements in treatment foster care or group homes, rather than traditional foster care. The county pays for out-of-home-placements, and those higher levels of care have monthly administrative fees, adding to the county’s costs, she said.
In 2021, McFarlane said, there were four children in the higher levels of care. This year, she said, there already have been nine children, eight of whom remain in those placements and are expected to be for all or most of this year.
As a result of all of those factors, the department is projected to be $175,000 over its budget this year for out-of-home placements, said HHS director Joe Krebsbach.
McFarlane said at the meeting Monday that the HHS department will accept applications from community nonprofits until Oct. 28 at 4:30 pm for a grant program using Covid relief funds from the American Rescue Plan, a 2021 federal law.
The County Board of Supervisors in August approved the use of $200,000 of those funds for grants to nonprofits addressing health and human services needs or the negative economic impacts of the pandemic.
The department plans to make determinations of grant awards on or before Dec. 27, McFarlane said.
The department also has made progress in addressing some turnover in its leadership. McFarlane, who will retire Jan. 20, will be replaced by Beth Chisolm, the department’s current children’s services manager, McFarlane said.
“Beth is a great manager, has great community connections, great relationships with our staff, excellent customer service and just has a heart for the work,” McFarlane said. “I’m very confident she’ll be able to step in very seamlessly and just be a great partner for Joe (Krebsbach).”
Jake Erickson, previously the director of the county’s Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC), also recently left the department. His position has been filled by Jenny Fitzgerald, who was the ADRC’s assistant director, McFarlane said.