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County Children's Services to add two staff members amidst foster care crisis

St. Croix County will add two additional Children Services staff members as communities throughout the state struggle to serve children of families ensnared in substance abuse.

The number of children the county's Health and Human Services department took into custody more than tripled from 2016 to 2017, marking the highest number in nearly a decade.

Supervisors unanimously approved a budget amendment to fund the additional staffing at their Feb. 8 meeting.

County Supervisor Chris Babbitt, who chairs the the Health and Human Services Board, said the staffing increase would help the department contend with "spiraling" caseloads.

"We've been discussing how the county needs to respond to what's very clearly a crisis point," Babbett said.

The decision will allocate an additional $178,000 from the county's Health and Human Services fund balance for a budget just over $5 million.

Fred Johnson, director of St. Croix County Health and Human Services, said his department considered repurposing existing positions to help relieve staff's caseloads.

That alternative, Johnson said, would cause reductions in other positions and cause budgeting conflicts.

"The way our funding is earmarked in certain positions, there's not unlimited flexibility," he said.

Julie Kring, St. Croix County Children's Services administrator, described the challenges her department faces during a presentation at last month's County Board meeting.

Some Wisconsin counties have been forced to rely on hotels and county facilities to house the uptick in children they take into custody.

Although St. Croix County has been able to place children in homes rather than makeshift facilities, Krings said the county's roughly 20 foster homes are almost always full.

Krings said her department received about five applications from potential foster families since a RiverTown article ran last month, but staff's workload remains strained.

The additional staff, she said, comes as a relief.

"It's going to take a lot of burden off of our current staff, so we're really going to be able to assess for safety and get the children what they need in our community," Krings said.