By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
Mercer County Children and Youth Services Director Katie Gabriel is asking county commissioners to support her plans to boost the county’s foster care program by hiring four additional employees, a move that would let children live locally and stay in their current school districts.
Gabriel explained about 38 children are in foster care and of those, 33 are in homes outside of Mercer County. Children are sent to Erie, Butler, Crawford and Venango counties because there aren’t sufficient foster homes locally.
“We have five. We just don’t have the staffing internally to develop a foster care program,” Gabriel said. By hiring a supervisor, two caseworkers and an aide, a program could be started that recruits, licenses, maintains and assists families in Mercer County willing to foster children.
“Rather than paying $70 a day for private companies to house children, we could pay foster parents $20 to $30 a day,” she told commissioners.
“It would allow us to grow our own program and handle it internally,” she said.
She also is looking to grow a program that teaches children in the system independent living skills. A state grant will let CYS expand the program to include children ages 14 and older to teach them about budgeting, housing options, daily living skills and employment prospectives. The program already exists but is handled by a private provider and is only for those older than 16.
“By handling it in-house we may even be able to open a satellite office elsewhere in the county to help teach these children life skills,” she said.
Both of those programs are mandates from the state, but the more that can be provided locally, the better, she said, both in terms of quality assurance and cost-savings.
Commissioners have yet to approve the additional positions, she said.