COUNTYWIDE : Board Orders Study of Cramped Shelter

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday ordered a comprehensive study of crowding problems at the Orangewood Children’s Home, citing figures that show the emergency shelter could save $250,000 annually by cutting five days from a child’s average stay.

Due to be completed in about nine months, the study is aimed at documenting why the average stay at the shelter for the county’s abused and abandoned children has increased from 14 days in 1979 to 33 days this year.

County Supervisor William G. Steiner, former director of the Orangewood Foundation, said reducing the average length of stay by 15% would translate to a $250,000 savings in overtime pay. If the trend of longer stays can be curbed, Steiner said, the county could also potentially avoid as much as $750,000 in capital improvement costs and $1 million in operational expenses.

Some reasons for extended stays are already known, said Bob Griffith, chief deputy director of the County Social Services Agency. Population trends, limited government resources and the dearth of longer-term foster care sites all contribute to the backup, Griffith said.


Also, the children who pass through Orangewood’s doors in the 1990s have often faced far more serious trauma than youngsters in previous decades. Inherited drug dependency or serious developmental disabilities are not rare, making quick placement in other facilities difficult, Griffith said.

Collecting specific data about these factors will help the county find ways to distribute resources better, said Steiner, a longtime children’s advocate.

Steiner added that shorter stays would allow the county to channel more money toward scholarships for former Orangewood residents, abuse prevention and other programs intended to strengthen the foster care system.

The longer stays have translated to cramped quarters for the shelter in Orange. The facility’s 235-bed capacity was exceeded for each of the past five months and 13 of the past 15 months. In May, the daily population averaged about 241 and peaked at 260, officials said.

No children can be turned away from the emergency care facility, and Orangewood officials said they have always managed to make room.

But Steiner said the larger caseload and longer stays compromise the quality of care.

The two staff positions dedicated to the new study were previously earmarked for elimination as a cost-cutting measure. But Steiner pushed for the study when Orangewood’s finances and performance came before supervisors during the county’s June budget hearings.

The study is due to be completed by June 1, 1994.