Judges: More money needed to care for addicted youth

ALPENA – Two judges need more money to care for seven children severely addicted to drugs and alcohol because residential treatment is costing $300 a day per youth.

Additional treatment and other efforts to help them will cost an additional $294,000 before the year is out, officials said Friday at a budget committee meeting of the Alpena County Commissioners.

Circuit Court Chief Judge Michael Mack and Alpena County Family Court Judge Thomas LaCross appeared before the board of commissioners to address the commissioners about the 2014 calendar year budget.

Treasurer Kim Ludlow provided a balance sheet total for the year to date, and some background.

In 2013, the child care fund officials sought $207,000 for the year but were budgeted at $107,000.

In the first 10 months, all of the fund savings were exhausted and it is now overdrawn by $89,000. The fund programs need the additional $294,000 before the end of the year just to balance the budget.

One key reason is because of the treatment required for seven young addicts, who range is age between 10 and 16, and are considered “the worst of the worst,” Mack said.

Both judges blamed the problem on the increasing presence of meth in the region. In addition to developing addictions to drugs and alcohol, many of the youngsters were badly neglected and abused by parents making, distributing and using the meth.

One youngster was found under a bridge in the company of an adult, who was “dead drunk” and suffering severe mental and drug problems, LaCross said. Other children have been involved in similar scenarios and the outcomes have not been good.

“Some of these kids were involved in home invasions. They have drug addictions, violence issues,” LaCross said.

One problem is that costs of treating such children needs to be monitored, because specialized centers like to hang onto them. Yet, if released to the community, the youths can influence their peers, LaCross said.

“We’ve tried everything to keep them at home and get them to school. And when they bottom out, that’s when they cost money,” Mack said.

Mack said no child should grow up in an institution because warehousing isn’t a solution.

“We want them to come out better than they went in,” he said. “It’s frustrating that we spend all this money on problem people, because good citizens need help and we can’t help them.”

Before budget-cutting measures went into effect last year, the child care fund programs cost around $300,000 a year. For 2014, the judges asked the commissioners to provide them a budget they must stay within.

The judges said they also are putting together an advisory panel to review the treatment and progress of each child. The group will include a therapist, a juvenile officer, a financial officer and others involved in the case.

Investment in treatment for the seven is crucial, the judges said.

Delinquency has dropped dramatically, LaCross said.

“By placing the worst of the worst, you are taking bad kids out of the community and they aren’t influencing other kids,” he said.

The deficit is expected to be discussed at the next meeting of the Alpena County Board of Commissioners Oct. 29. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Nov. 23.

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.