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Rescue its Youth

PEDRO — No matter its exact name, the former Rock Hill school building on State Route 93, aka Mended Reeds, has always served children.

Built as Rock Hill High, it later became the site of the district’s middle school. Then in 2003, it underwent another metamorphosis becoming Mended Reeds, a for-profit shelter for troubled youth.

Soon the building should get a fourth name tag, when it becomes the new site for the Dennis J. Boll Group and Shelter Home that takes youth placed by the juvenile court.

This time the new identity may do more than reach out to troubled teens. It could bring in some much-needed bucks for Lawrence County.

That’s what the county commissioners are gearing up for when on Tuesday they close on buying Mended Reeds for $800,000 — a half million down; the rest to come in two installments in the next two years.

Commissioner Les Boggs, who was the liaison for the deal, believes the move can mean $250,000 in revenue and savings a year for the county.

But is that wishful thinking or sharp fiscal planning on the part of the trio who holds the county’s purse strings?

The short answer: It looks like the latter.

That’s according to Dan Shook, bureau chief of the bureau of administration and fiscal accountability at the Ohio Job and Family Services in Columbus.

But before the county can collect, it will have to jump through some significant sounding bureaucratic hoops to get what is called in the industry a IV-E classification. That’s for both the new shelter home and the juvenile court.

The classification, which can bring in substantial federal reimbursements, gets its name from the federal Social Security Act, passed in 1986.

“The federal government provides funding through the Social Security Act Title IV-E program funding for children who are wards of the state,” Shook said.

However, in Ohio, it is the county agencies that have this responsibility, he said.

How much money could Lawrence get?

Another short answer: That depends on the child. For a child placed in the county’s group home to be eligible for reimbursement, he or she would have to match certain federal criteria.

“Not every child who is in custody is eligible for the federal Title IV-E program,” Shook said.

Those criteria include age — the youth must be 18 years or younger; and the income available to the family.

The juvenile court must also provide a statement that it is in the best interest of the child that he or she be removed from the home and that the court had made a “reasonable effort” to keep the child in that home before the removal, Shook said.

That requirement matches the philosophy of Lawrence County’s Juvenile Court Judge David Payne.

“One of the goals of IV-E is to prevent or reduce out of home placement. … to reduce the amount of time a child would have to be out of the home,” Payne said. “We don’t want to put them back into a home where they are not cared for, where they are not experiencing positive parenting in that home. On the other hand, we don’t want children to get caught up in what used to be referred to as floating from foster home to foster home.

“In the IV-E program the number of expectations all focus on trying to get the services to the child and the family, which would encourage that child being raised appropriately.”

There are only 33 juvenile courts in the 88 counties of Ohio who have gained the IV-E classification.

“Some courts don’t want to,” Shook said. “They don’t feel it is their role to be a children services agency.”

That’s not the case with Payne, who has already been working with Columbus to meet the requirements to add that special Roman numeral to his court’s resume.

“If our court can become IV-E and that facility can, that will be where there will be significant potential new dollars,” Payne said. “That is where we would see the potential benefit.”

Getting the classification is expected to take six months and Payne isn’t anticipating any roadblocks.

“We think we can get that done,” he said.

If so, the county can expect to get 68.34 percent of the costs it takes to house, feed, clothe and so forth for each eligible child. Again, there is a caveat. Say the county is paying $120 a day to take care of this child, but the federal reimbursement ceiling is only $100. That extra $20 won’t factor into the equation; the county will only get back $68.34.

“The juvenile court will have to complete an annual cost report, how much it actually costs to support those kids,” Shook said. “We then set a reasonable threshold. Each facility is judged differently.”

In the first part of May court officials will meet with ODJFS representatives to go over what has to be done to get this sought-after designation.

“We are providing guidance, an overview of everything they will have to follow,” Shook said. “We will hand them the rules and regulations. They need to go back and work with the children service agency, work internally to come up with processes and documentation on how they will meet compliance.”

Shook’s staff will also come down to the Mended Reeds building to check it out to see if any upgrades must be made to meet current licensing standards.

A plus here is that the Mended Reeds agency had already gotten the IV-E classification for the building when it was used by the private organization. However, that status is not transferable and the county will have to undergo the same licensing process.

The license is good for two years and the facility will be reviewed before the license is extended. Likewise the state will monitor the juvenile court and if it is not following the terms of their agreement, that can be revoked.

Despite the paperwork and red tape to gain IV-E status, Shook sees that it could benefit Lawrence County.

“Once they become a IV-E court, they can draw down at least a portion of their costs. It will reduce their outlay of cash for these children,” he said. “There’s potential. Who knows until they get into it. Definitely it’s a good idea.”