June 15, 2008

Programs That Help Children Must Deal With Budget Cuts

By Sarah Vos, The Lexington Herald-Leader, Ky.

Jun. 14--FRANKFORT -- Last year, Brooklawn Child and Family Services in Louisville helped the parents of 268 kids do a better job.

The children had been identified as at-risk for being taken from their homes because of abuse or neglect. With the help of a two-year, $300,000 state grant, Brooklawn sent social workers into homes to help the parents become more successful.

"You kind of re-parent the parent," said Mike Schultz, vice president for development at Brooklawn.

But on June 30, the program -- which went two years without having a child taken from his or her home -- will lose its funding.

To comply with its share of the $179.9 million in cuts ordered by the General Assembly as part of the budget that begins July 1, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services cut $7.6 million from programs designed to help social workers keep kids with their biological parents or reunite them with their families.

Overall, the cabinet was asked to cut $31.5 million from its budget and sent the governor's office a plan that includes the $7.6 million in cuts to parenting and other contract programs within the Department for Community Based Services.

The governor's office still has to approve the plan, but the cabinet already has notified programs that are losing their funding, said Beth Jurek, a policy adviser for the cabinet.

The programs that were cut are funded by state dollars. Programs that provide similar services but are funded by federal or a combination of state and matching federal dollars were not cut.

"As best we could, we tried to minimize the impact," Jurek said.

Advocates say they understand the hard choices the cabinet has had to make, but that programs like the one at Brooklawn save the state money by keeping kids in their homes instead of state custody.

It costs $1,150 a year to provide services in the home, Schultz said. If a child ends up in Brooklawn's residential treatment program for children who have emotional problems as a result of severe abuse, neglect or other crises, the cost is $71,000 a year.

"Our worry is that we'll see more incidences of neglect and abuse, which will eventually drive kids into these high-end costs," Schultz said.

In Fayette County, the Bluegrass Regional Mental Health-Mental Retardation Board lost a two-year, $400,000 contract to work with at-risk families.

Over two years, the program worked with 470 kids and helped 96 percent of them stay with their families, said Joe Toy, president of Bluegrass. It helped 50 other children return to their biological parents from state care.

The cuts come as the number of kids in state custody is increasing, said Michelle Sanborn, director of public policy for the Children's Alliance. In May 2007, the cabinet had 7,200 children in its care. At the beginning of June, it had 7,400.

Other departments within the cabinet have been affected as well. The state's community mental health centers, including Bluegrass, were notified of a 3 percent budget cut, which comes after 12 years of level-funded budgets, increasing caseloads and increasing retirement expenses.

Seven Counties Services, the community mental health center that includes Louisville, won't be able to serve as many people, said Dean Johnson, a vice president there. Its budget has been cut by $1 million.

"The people we served won't disappear when they don't receive services from us," Johnson said. "They emerge in more costly and less effective venues such as jails, hospitals and emergency rooms."

Reach Sarah Vos at (859) 231-3309 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3309.


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