by Max Brantley
Arkansas Human Services says a $2.2 million federal budget cut will cut jobs of people who help abused children, reduce support for a State Police crimes against children effort and affect other family services.
Details follow, but beginning with commentary from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families on the human cost of budget cutting. The people most in need will be affected most; more children will go to foster care. This is a product of the family values crowd that puts tax cuts for wealthy and cuts in social program spending first before all other government initiatives.
NEWS RELEASE FROM ARKANSAS ADVOCATES
LITTLE ROCK – Today, the Arkansas Department of Human Services announced cuts to state programs that help abused children. Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families says the cuts, resulting from a $2.2 million cut in federal Temporary Assistance For Needy Families funding, prove once again that budget cuts – the talk of the town among some in Washington, D.C. – mean cuts in services for those who need them most.
According to DHS, the cuts would affect funding for the DHS Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) used to conduct child maltreatment investigations. Two vital child welfare programs that will prevent more children from entering foster homes will be eliminated. The Human Services Workers in Schools Program, which provided family and student counseling, parent training and crisis intervention services to 15,249 students last year is now gone. Funding for Family Resource Centers, which educate parents about child development and teach them how to deal with their children’s behavior, will be eliminated as well. Family Resource Centers served over 11,448 families last year.
The State Police Crimes Against Children Division will also lose some funding although the agency intends to fill the gaps by shuffling around funds from elsewhere in the State Police budget, potentially leaving other programs at risk. The cuts will take effect July 1, 2012.
Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF), says that as we reduce prevention services like the two programs eliminated by DCFS today, we will begin to see even more children enter the foster care system.
“As funding becomes tight, we need to look at the state budget, including the TANF budget, and make sure we protect our top priority – the health, well-being and safety of our children,” Huddleston said. “The state has very tough choices to make in the short-term as funding is cut that will affect the long-term needs of our children. As caseloads of DCFS workers increase, the safety of our children will be in jeopardy.”
DCFS Director Cecile Blucker said in the DHS release that these programs have played an important role in preventing child abuse. The release also said that more cuts are anticipated in 2014. If that were to happen, DCFS would not be able to manage the 34,000 child maltreatment investigations it currently handles. If DCFS were to sustain further cuts in the future, the outlook for children suffering from maltreatment is not good. According to the release, “DCFS likely would request state legislators to remove some lower risk allegations from the Child Maltreatment Act to cut down on the number of investigations. Those would include inadequate food, clothing and shelter for children age six and older, inadequate supervision of children age 9 and older, environmental and educational neglect, and some cases of medical neglect.” Some categories might be removed completely.
“We saw this happen 10 years ago with a budget shortfall and DCFS has only begun to recover from it recently as they have been able to hire more workers and put new programs in place that addressed prevention of child maltreatment,” Jennifer Ferguson, deputy director for AACF said. “We need to make sure that children remain our top priority and see that their needs are adequately addressed in the next legislative session.”
NEWS RELEASE FROM DHS
A cut in federal funding will require the Department of Human Services (DHS) to eliminate a child abuse prevention program that put workers in 27 school districts, eliminate funding for Family Resource Centers and reduce funding for the State Police Crimes Against Children Division (CACD) and some family support programs beginning July 1.
“We don’t want to see these services reduced, but this is the reality of federal budget cuts,” Governor Mike Beebe said. “Cutting federal programs has real consequences for real people, and we will continue providing the best services we can with fewer dollars.”
DHS Director John Selig agrees.
“It was not easy for us to give up these programs because we know they have helped thousands of struggling families in Arkansas,” Selig said Tuesday. “Unfortunately, we have to cut them in order to keep caseworkers who work to ensure the safety and well-being of children.”
The decisions are a result of a $2,247,469 reduction in the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding that the DHS Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) uses to conduct thousands of child maltreatment investigations, said DCFS Director Cecile Blucker.
The Human Services Workers in Schools Program provides student or family counseling, parent training, crisis intervention and other services to lessen strain on families. Family Resource Centers educate parents about child development and appropriate responses to a child’s behavior.
Last year, the Human Services Workers in Schools Program served 15,429 students and Family Resource Centers served 11,448 families, Blucker said. Last fiscal year, the child abuse hotline run by CACD received over 50,000 calls and CACD investigated 6,378 abuse cases. State Police Col. JR Howard said his agency intends to maintain the level of services CACD provides by shifting money from elsewhere in the State Police budget.
Blucker said the Human Services Workers in Schools Program and the nine Family Resource Centers have been a vital part of her division’s efforts to focus on preventing abuse – rather than just reacting to it — by reducing the stress on families and educating parents.
“Sadly, these cuts, and some expected later, will shift our focus away from preventive services that we know help families and protect children,” she said. “This is not our first choice, but a significant reduction in federal funding would leave us no alternative.”
Much deeper federal cuts to TANF funding are anticipated to hit DCFS in state fiscal year 2014, Blucker said. If those cuts go through, DCFS would not be able to manage the 34,000 child maltreatment investigations it handles today. DCFS likely would request state legislators to remove some lower risk allegations from the Child Maltreatment Act to cut down on the number of investigations. Those would include inadequate food, clothing and shelter for children age six and older, inadequate supervision of children age 9 and older, environmental and educational neglect, and some cases of medical neglect. Depending on how deep the cuts, some categories may need to be totally removed from the Child Maltreatment Act.
DCFS also would have to consider eliminating support services that it provides at-risk families, reduce the monthly amount it pays foster families and the number of contracts it has for placing foster care children in residential facilities.