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Federal funds for 'at risk' kids programs likely to be reduced

WILLMAR -- Money for programs that help at-risk children will likely be cut this year as part of changes designed to create consistency in how states spend federal funds.

It's not known exactly what the dollar impact will be in Kandiyohi County, said Family Services director Larry Kleindl, but it's expected that about 31 percent of Minnesota's funding for the "Local Collaborative Time Study" programs will be cut.

Cuts to individual counties could be nearly 70 percent.

Kleindl said it is "too early in the ballgame" to know how much money will be lost and how many programs will be eliminated, but he was not optimistic. "This will be a major cut for us," he said. "There will be a lot less programs."

In this area, much of the funding for this programming is currently channeled through the PACT 4 Families Collaborative, a family service and children's mental health collaborative that funds programs of more than 100 different agencies in Kandiyohi, Renville, Meeker and Yellow Medicine counties.

Kleindl informed the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that the so-called "time study" funds will be cut and the definition of "at risk" will be changed when it comes to identifying children eligible for programs.

Currently, different agencies such as schools are reimbursed for assessments, studies and intervention activities with children with risky behaviors. Defining "at risk" was left to the expertise of local professionals and was applied in a more general way.

Now, a new checklist will limit the definition to children who are at "serious risk of out-of-home placement."

The definition of that is still "abstract," said Kathy Buer, Kandiyohi County Family Services supervisor, but it implies a more limited boundary of eligibility.

Along with the new definition, the federal government is also applying stringent guidelines, like family income, to determine if children are eligible for federal Title IV-E funding, which is used to offset costs associated with children in out-of-home placements, like foster care.

The combination of the new definition and tougher guidelines means there will be fewer kids who are eligible.

That will mean schools will receive less money for programs and staff such as social workers that helped kids before they were at risk of being placed in foster care -- and maybe kept them out of foster care.

Schools, corrections departments and public health departments will no longer be eligible to receive allowable administrative costs for services. Kleindl said the changes will mean there will be fewer intervention and prevention programs for children, but that there will be increased communication between the different agencies that are working together to help kids at risk of out-of-home placement.

Counties have just recently been informed about the changes and many of the guidelines haven't been completed yet. But Kleindl said the county sent out agreements to the area school districts this week informing them of the changes.

The agreements need to be returned to the Minnesota Department of Human Services by Oct. 1.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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