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County reacts to foster care program roadblocks

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Warren County leaders claim a company that has been running foster homes for the county has wrongfully made changes that prevent the county from promptly resuming control of its foster care program.

County supervisors had harsh words for Berkshire Farm Center & Services for Youth, which has been operating the child foster care program for the Warren County Department of Social Services since early 2010. Berkshire's foster care director, though, said Monday that it has made no changes and has done nothing wrong.

The county decided last month it wanted to end the $674,000-a-year relationship with Berkshire, which supervisors said turned out to be more expensive than if the county ran the program itself, as it did up until 2010. In fact, supervisors on Monday transferred $1.2 million to the county's foster care budget because of higher-than-expected costs this year, though they acknowledged not all of those increases were due to the Berkshire relationship.

The county believes it can run the program for about $100,000 less per year than Columbia County-based Berkshire.

The Department of Social Services and county supervisors blame Berkshire for "roadblocks" being put in place that will prevent the county from a takeover in the coming months and likely will stretch the process out to 12 to 18 months.

The main issue has been that Berkshire has placed children from outside Warren County in foster homes in Warren County. The county cannot transfer those homes back to its control, said Chris Hanchett, the county's adoption and foster care supervisor.

Berkshire had agreed not to put children from other counties in foster homes in Warren County and hadn't done so until after news of the county's desire to end the relationship got out, Hanchett said.

"It seems like the minute they got word that we wanted to change, they started placing children from other counties in (Warren County) homes," Hanchett said. "We can only have children from our county in the homes at the time of the transition."

David Bach, Berkshire's director of foster care, said the agency has done nothing different since Warren County made it clear it was discontinuing its foster care relationship with Berkshire. Berkshire operates foster homes around the state and doesn't agree to keep children from one county only in that county, he said.

"We haven't changed any of our practices," he said. "We have no interest in hurting our relationship with one of our partners."

Supervisors have been angry about the arrangement with Berkshire since they learned of it last month.

Embattled DSS Commissioner Sheila Weaver, who is on paid leave because of her August arrest, entered into the agreement with Berkshire to run foster homes and the foster care program without running the idea by the Board of Supervisors and without signing a contract that bound Berkshire to any terms.

County officials said the costs have been higher than estimated, and news that the DSS believed actions taken by the organization were hindering the switch didn't sit well with some members of the board.

"We sure got the shaft then, didn't we?" Horicon Supervisor Ralph Bentley said.

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