County attracts state, national spotlight

Carlton County continues to turn heads around the state and country, even in the face of looming financial challenges. At Tuesday's adjourned session of the Carlton County Board, Dave Lee, director of Carlton County Health and Human Services, pre...

Carlton County continues to turn heads around the state and country, even in the face of looming financial challenges.

At Tuesday's adjourned session of the Carlton County Board, Dave Lee, director of Carlton County Health and Human Services, presented a good news/bad news scenario the county is currently facing.

The bad news regards mandates from the Federal Deficit Reduction Act that stand to impact the state of Minnesota - and Carlton County - in a major way during the coming year, paring some $40 million in child protection funding from the state budget. Lee said that translates to a loss of some $197,000 from Carlton County's child protection funding for 2008, which he admitted will be a major challenge to overcome. (Read more about this pending situation in next week's issue of the Pine Journal.)

Despite that unwelcome news, Lee said the county currently has much to be proud of - and grateful for - because its agencies and employees continue to work together to make a significant difference in the lives of its residents.

One of the county initiatives that was recently recognized with a YES (Youth Engagement and Success) grant from the Minnesota Department of Education involves a collaborative effort among social services, school districts, the R.E.A.C.H. program, truancy officers and the Carlton County Children and Family Services Collaborative to reduce truancy, increase the high school graduation rate and cut down on the number of young people in the juvenile justice system. According to coordinator Karen Milbrath, Carlton County was one of the top two candidates to receive the four grants awarded, and the $500,000 will be utilized over a two-year period.


On another front, Lee said the county has become a nationally recognized model for its alternative response program (now known nationally as the "family assessment response program"), giving families a new direction who otherwise might be in jeopardy of giving up their children to out-of-home placement. Lee said county social worker Russ Rauenhorst has become a statewide trainer in the program and was invited to be a featured speaker at a national conference in Long Beach, Calif., in November to talk about the local program.

"Minnesota has taken the lead throughout the country in implementing this very effective program aimed at successfully keeping families together," commented Lee, "and Carlton County is widely recognized as being one of the counties responsible for taking the lead in the state."

Lee said another of the county's programs that has gained accolades recently for its effectiveness is its Children's Justice Initiative, targeted at establishing permanence for children in out-of-home care. Of particular note has been the successful collaboration between the social services departments of the county and the Fond du Lac Reservation in reducing the over-representation of Indian children in out-of-home placement. On Friday, Lee will be joined by Lisa Pollack, supervisor of social services for the reservation, in making a presentation about the program before a statewide advisory committee meeting in the Twin Cities, which includes Minnesota Supreme Court Justices and other influential state decision-makers. Carlton County was among three counties invited before the advisory committee, along with Hennepin and Ramsey counties in the Twin Cities metro area.

At Tuesday's meeting, Lee presented the board with an award received by the Northeastern Minnesota Emergency Preparedness Coalition, of which Carlton County is an active participant. The regional group was one of four such organizations across the entire country to be honored recently with the Wolters Kluwer Health Award for excellence in its planning efforts in case of an influenza pandemic or other major regional or national disaster. Headed up locally by Marilyn Cluka, the Carlton County group includes many agencies and individuals who meet regularly and help disseminate the valuable information to the public.

Other county programs achieving breakthrough results are its mental health initiatives and its child support collection efforts. Lee said Carlton County was one of three counties in the state of Minnesota selected to undergo a comprehensive federal review by the National Technical Assistance Center for Children's Mental Health at Georgetown University, aimed at identifying effective programs of progressive child protection.

"They're looking particularly at integrated services in rural or non-metro areas," said Lee. "We were asked to take part along with Hennepin and Washington counties. Because of the way our county and tribal governments work together, they felt we would help the state pass the test."

Lee added the state did, indeed, fare well on the review, which took place in late September, and as a result, Carlton County was nominated by Georgetown University to be among 360 applicants vying for the honor of speaking at the National Mental Health Conference next summer in Nashville.

He further reported that Rebecca Ahlstrand of child support services joined representatives of six other counties in presenting at a statewide conference in October about the county's program aimed at assisting low income families clear up and avoid delinquent child support payments.


"All of these programs that have been so successful are truly representative of government that works," summed up Lee. "We are fortunate to have a group of people in this county who get the job done but are respectful along the way of the interests of our citizens."

County commissioners applauded the efforts of the county's agencies and the recognition they have received for their work.

Pine Journal Publisher/ reporter Wendy Johnson can be contacted at: .

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