This week the Rhino Times reported that Guilford County social services staff is projecting the total cost for Foster Care Room and Board in fiscal year 2023-2024 will be $13 million, which is $5 million more than the $8 million allocated for that purpose in the fiscal 2023-2024 budget.

Budget predictions are sometimes off, but that was a gigantic miss, and, on Thursday, Dec. 21, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners pulled money from other county programs in the middle of the budget year to pay the Foster Care bill.

Fortunately, federal and state money is going to cover $3.2 million of the cost.

County staff spent some time going through the current budget looking for $1.8 million to pay the remainder and took the funds from other county programs. For instance, the county took $568,000 out of an Emergency Rental Assistance program that had the funds left over.

The commissioners also voted to approve the use of revenue from other programs as money that had been budgeted for county employees’ salaries but that is available for use since those positions are currently vacant.

County budget staff and the county commissioners always put a great deal of padding in the budget because it’s better to end up the year with a surplus of money than to run out of funds before the fiscal year ends on June 30.  But the fact that the county can always pull giant sums of money out of the budget without a hiccup shows just how much padding they put in the budget each year.

Guilford County government was blindsided by the cost of the Foster Care services that social services is ending up having to provide this year. The Division of Social Services is handling more kids than expected and each one is costing more than was budgeted for per child.

As of December 12, there were 630 “children” – anyone under 21 years of age is classified as a child – in custody across all placement types. That includes “328 in family foster homes, 84 in kinship placements, 90 in group homes, 66 in therapeutic care, 44 in 18-21 college/semi-supervised care, and 18 in other forms care.”

According to a staff memo to the commissioners, “Roughly 65 percent of children are placed in family foster homes and kinship placements, which are the least expensive placements while 25 percent of children are placed in therapeutic and treatment care placements, which have higher costs associated with additional complexity,” and “10 percent are in semi-supervised or other placement care.”