Last updated: March 08. 2013 12:02AM - 3878 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com - (570) 991-6388



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Luzerne County Manager Robert Lawton said he’s encouraging managers to think outside the box and come up with programs to address county problems, such as truancy, but the challenge will be identifying funding to start new initiatives.


“There’s always a cost,” Lawton said.


Lawton told County Council last week he wants to prepare a report identifying all county services and their costs separated into two categories — required and optional.


“We must know how much discretionary spending we have available once we have fulfilled our state and federal mandates,” Lawton said Thursday.


Decisions on keeping and adding optional programs will be “evidence-based,” or backed with statistics and studies demonstrating why the investment of staff or funding makes sense, he said.


Fiscal struggles at all government levels might prevent additional funding, said Lawton, but he is open to reallocating limited staff and spending from one program to another if the change will help more people and target costly county problems.


Advocates of countywide truancy programs, for example, believe fewer juveniles will end up in the largely county-funded criminal justice system if the personal problems of chronically absent students are identified and addressed early.


But a truancy program similar to the one in Lackawanna County would require several Children and Youth caseworkers to spend much of their time working with families of truant students. The Children and Youth department must determine if the benefits of a truancy program warrant pulling caseworkers from other assignments, Lawton said.


County Interim Human Services Director Mary Dysleski, who has not yet been involved in developing a countywide truancy plan, said Children and Youth and other departments are assisting with a survey of school students that will attempt to identify student and family issues impacting academic performance, including truancy.


Dysleski said surveys and statistics are an essential component to obtain grants amid competition.


Human service divisions are putting more emphasis on identifying the most in-demand and beneficial programs because the state is moving toward more lump sum allocations that give counties flexibility to tailor programs to their specific needs, Dysleski said. Some programs in mental health, and drug and alcohol services already have changed to this type of block grant funding, she said.


Investing in programs that tackle family problems of truant students and other at-risk residents might reduce court and human service caseloads down the road, but prevention often takes a back seat if there’s only enough funding to address clients already in the system, she said.


“The preferable approach is to be proactive, but money is always an issue,” Dysleski said.Decisions on keeping and adding optional programs will be “evidence-based,” or backed with statistics and studies demonstrating why the investment of staff or funding makes sense, he said.


Fiscal struggles at all government levels might prevent additional funding, said Lawton, but he is open to reallocating limited staff and spending from one program to another if the change will help more people and target costly county problems.


Advocates of countywide truancy programs, for example, believe fewer juveniles will end up in the largely county-funded criminal justice system if the personal problems of chronically absent students are identified and addressed early.


But a truancy program similar to the one in Lackawanna County would require several Children and Youth caseworkers to spend much of their time working with families of truant students. The Children and Youth department must determine if the benefits of a truancy program warrant pulling caseworkers from other assignments, Lawton said.


County Interim Human Services Director Mary Dysleski, who has not yet been involved in developing a countywide truancy plan, said Children and Youth and other departments are assisting with a survey of school students that will attempt to identify student and family issues impacting academic performance, including truancy.


Dysleski said surveys and statistics are an essential component to obtain grants amid competition.


Human service divisions are putting more emphasis on identifying the most in-demand and beneficial programs because the state is moving toward more lump sum allocations that give counties flexibility to tailor programs to their specific needs, Dysleski said. Some programs in mental health, and drug and alcohol services already have changed to this type of block grant funding, she said.


Investing in programs that tackle family problems of truant students and other at-risk residents might reduce court and human service caseloads down the road, but prevention often takes a back seat if there’s only enough funding to address clients already in the system, she said.


“The preferable approach is to be proactive, but money is always an issue,” Dysleski said.

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