MONTGOMERY COUNTY — Montgomery County officials are mulling a $367,656 program to provide preventative services to at-risk children from kindergarten to the fifth-grade, in an effort to reduce foster care placements.
A resolution authorizing Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort to approve the Homerun program, operated by a private-sector non-profit called the Berkshire Farm Center & Services for Youth, received unanimous support from the county’s Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday night.
Michael McMahon, the county’s commissioner of social services, said the Homerun program will be paid for with state and school district funding, with no contribution from Montgomery County. He said he’s hopeful the program could save money if it reduces the foster care caseload, a substantial portion of which is paid for with local property tax dollars.
“(Homerun) was started in Schoharie County about 10 years ago; the (Schoharie County Department of Social Services) commissioner said we should be trying to help kids at younger ages — kids involved in risky behaviors,” McMahon said. “This (Homerun) allows the schools to refer kids when they see behaviors — that may not be a ‘hotline’ call, may not rise to the level of abuse or neglect where we would get involved — but it may be behaviors that would lead into that.”
Berkshire Farm’s program has to be authorized by the county but would operate through contracts with the five school districts within the county: Amsterdam, Fonda-Fultonville, Canajoharie, Fort Plain and Oppenheim-Ephratah-St.Johnsville.
Each of the districts has agreed to provide $91,939 toward the cost of the program, with 62 percent of the total cost, $228,008, reimbursed by New York state. The schools are expected to contribute a combined $139,747 in local tax money.
According to information from Berkshire Farm, the funding would pay for family specialists at each of the districts. Each specialist would be capable of handling a caseload of 10 to 12 families, with a minimum of two face-to-face contacts with children in the program each week at the school and bi-weekly in-home counseling with the child and/or family. The program runs throughout the year, including the summer vacation period.
Although Montgomery County is only considering approving the Homerun program, Berkshire Farm has other programs, including a truancy prevention program aimed at middle and high school students called “Turnabout.” The “Vision” program targets young people who have been designated “Persons in need of supervision” by the court system, known as PINS.
Berkshire Farms programs are also in use in Albany, Allegany, Cattaraugus, Franklin, Hamilton, Niagara, Saratoga and Schoharie counties. According to Berkshire officials, children who participate in the program have a 99 percent success rate at avoiding all “out of home” placements.
District Legislator 1 Martin Kelly, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, asked McMahon how the Homerun program would work in Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville, which has some Fulton County residents as students.
McMahon said Montgomery County’s version of the Homerun program can only be used for Montgomery County residents, so Fulton County would need to opt-in to the program on its own to provide for the Fulton County students.
Chairman of the Legislature Robert Headwell, who represents District 4, said the Homerun program could help as many as 90 families in Montgomery County.
“I think the price is right on this one,” he said.
With the committee’s endorsement, the resolution to authorize the Homerun program will be considered by the full Legislature at its meeting later this month.