Bedford County Judges Travis Livengood and Brandi Hershey, during a roundtable discussion said the county’s rising juvenile placement costs cover treatment required by law and serve the rehabilitative needs of youth in the court system.
The judges met with Lisa Cairo, administrator of Bedford County Children and Youth Services, and representatives from other county departments and agencies as part of an annual Children’s Roundtable discussion, according to a news release issued by the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts on Thursday.
Judge Hershey, who presides over the juvenile court cases, addressed the increase in juvenile placement costs over the past few years — a topic that has been discussed by the county commissioners during recent budget conversations.
“A majority of our current juvenile placements are for acts of serious sexual assault, violence, and arson,” Hershey said. “These children have the greatest rehabilitative needs and, in many cases, are themselves victims of abuse.”
The county commissioners in a statement last week said President Judge Livengood had “exploded” the juvenile placement budget from $400,000 three years ago, to more than $1.1 million this past year. The statement came after Livengood expressed concerns about the commissioners conducting their annual budget meetings via teleconference due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Both judges during the roundtable said that, due to the rehabilitative needs of the children and the protection of the public, the law requires the children be placed at an approved facility for treatment. The judges also said placements in more serious cases are more expensive because the treatment programs are longer and there are fewer approved facilities available.
“These children are in placement to receive the rehabilitation the law requires,” Livengood said. “If they are released before their treatment is complete, their chances at rehabilitation diminish and the risk they commit new crimes against other victims greatly increases.”
Cairo’s proposed budget for the 2021 calendar year included a request for $1.69 million for juvenile placement to keep up with the rising costs. The department is projected to spend $1.5 million on placements this year, above the $1.1 million that was budgeted.
The commissioners have cited the costs as one of the main factors for the 17.8% property tax increase approved last year for the 2020 budget.
“While taxpayer expense is always a concern, we cannot abandon these kids when they need to help the most, nor can we disregard the law,” Hershey said.
The news release said juvenile delinquency placements are recommended by the district attorney and juvenile probation offices and, in some cases, consented to by the child and their attorney to willingly seek treatment. Most children in the delinquency system have also had prior interaction with CYS in the dependency system.
The two judges and Cairo announced that a new subcommittee will be formed to continue discussions about juvenile placements.
“The increase in juvenile delinquency placements affects multiple stakeholders and cooperation amongst those stakeholders is necessary to address it,” Hershey said.
Other topics discussed during the roundtable included truancy, suicide prevention, co-parenting classes and drug and alcohol abuse.
The meeting was attended by representatives from various organizations, including the district attorney and county probation offices, UPMC, Bedford Elementary, Your Safe Haven, Bedford-Somerset Developmental and Behavioral Health Services, Independent Family Services, Personal Solutions Inc., the United Way, Hyndman Area Health Center, Youth Advocate Program, United Family Services Systems and court administration.
“The Roundtable is designed to encourage system-wide cooperation,” Livengood said, “and we are thankful for all of those individuals who participated in helping our County’s youth and families.”