Multiple changes are coming in how Hennepin County treats juveniles who need to live outside their homes.

The Hennepin County Board recently decided to stop sending to other states a small group of difficult-to-treat girls and young women age 14 and older.

The teenagers haven’t been declared delinquent by a court, but have multiple psychiatric, psychological and behavioral issues.

Typically, they have failed multiple placements in Minnesota. They also tend to run away and need intensive, costly supervision.

Currently, the county sends these girls to various states in the South. Rex Holzemer, assistant county administrator for Human Services, said there were about six juveniles in the program, two of whom were on the run.

It isn’t likely to be cheaper to keep them in Minnesota.

Holzemer made the recommendation to contract with a company called Nexus to give intensive residential treatment to the girls and their families.

Holzemer said treating the girls here would allow them to be closer to and build support networks near their homes.

He recommended — and the board agreed — to spend $436,000 to renovate a mothballed building at the Hennepin County Home School. The county’s home school is on picturesque land off of County Road 62 in Minnetonka.

The decision, however, wasn’t wholeheartedly endorsed by the County Board.

Commissioners Jeff Johnson and Mike Opat balked at making the shift without a guarantee of better results for the juveniles. Johnson said he’d like to see a cheaper alternative.

Both commissioners questioned spending money to renovate a property at the home school, which likely won’t exist in its current configuration in a few years.

Opat said he understands “the frustration and difficulty of this group” and knows that “results are mixed” from the out-of-state facilities, but said it didn’t make sense “to commit to a site on that campus when we have another plan there.”

Hennepin and Ramsey counties are formally devising a plan to merge their residential home schools. Both facilities are aging and need significant renovations.

On Nov. 1, both county boards will have a recommendation that would include governance, management, funding and location for a new school.

From planning to occupancy, the project could take up to four years, county administrators said.

Hennepin County Board Chairwoman Jan Callison voted for the proposal, which passed 5-2. She said she didn’t want to let that time pass without an effort. “That’s four years worth of kids that we believe we can do better” for, she said.

The Hennepin County Home School is a secure residential treatment facility for juveniles and young adults ages 13 to 20 who have been sent there by the courts. It sits on 167 acres of prime west-suburban real estate. Ramsey County operates Boys Totem Town in the Battle Creek neighborhood of St. Paul. Juvenile justice system changes in the past decade have driven down populations housed at both of the counties’ residential facilities.

Use of juvenile detention centers has dropped precipitously as well.

 

rochelle.olson@startribune.com Twitter:@rochelleolson