Submitted by Lukes Dad
LITTLE ROCK — The state Department of Human Services said today it will cut funding to programs aimed at preventing child abuse because of a $2.2 million reduction in federal funding.
The cuts will take effect July 1. They are being made in response to a reduction in the funding the state receives through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF.
The agency said it is targeting prevention programs with the cuts so no caseworker positions will have to be eliminated.
“It was not easy for us to give up these programs because we know they have helped thousands of struggling families in Arkansas,” DHS Director John Selig said. “Unfortunately, we have to cut them in order to keep caseworkers who work to ensure the safety and well-being of children.”
DHS plans to eliminate the Human Services Workers in Schools Program, which last fiscal year placed workers in 27 school districts and served 15,429 students. The program provides student and family counseling, parent training, crisis intervention and other services to lessen the strain on families and reduce the likelihood of abuse or neglect.
The agency also plans to eliminate the funding it provides for Family Resource Centers, which served 11,448 students last fiscal year. The centers educate parents about child development and appropriate responses to a child’s behavior.
Agency officials also said they will reduce funding for the Crimes Against Children Division of the Arkansas State Police, or CACD.
Last fiscal year, the child abuse hotline run by CACD received more than 50,000 calls and CACD investigated 6,378 abuse cases. The Arkansas State Police will maintain the level of services CACD provides by shifting money from elsewhere in that agency’s budget, DHS officials said.
DHS said it would cut $1 million from Human Service Workers in Schools, $355,000 from Family Resource Centers, $279,562 from CACD, $146,223 from family support programs and $458,025 from other DHS division budgets.
Making the cuts is “not a decision we are thrilled to make, but we really feel like there is no other better decision,” said DHS spokeswoman Amy Webb.
Matt DeCample, spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe, said that with DHS already facing a looming Medicaid shortfall, it has to prioritize where its money goes. DHS has said the Medicaid shortfall could be as high as $400 million in 2013-14.
“When you have cuts in federal funding, the first place you have to look are programs that are qualified more often as optional, and that’s where your preventative programs are,” DeCample said.
Deeper federal cuts to TANF funding are expected in the 2013-14 fiscal year, said Cecile Blucker, director of DHS’ Division of Children and Family Services. If those cuts go through, DCFS would not be able to manage the 34,000 child maltreatment investigations it now conducts annually, she said.
In that event, DCFS likely would ask state legislators to remove some lower-risk allegations from the Child Maltreatment Act to cut down on the number of investigations, Blucker said. Those could include allegations of inadequate food, clothing and shelter for children age 6 and older, inadequate supervision of children age 9 and older, environmental and educational neglect, and some cases of medical neglect, she said.
Blucker said DCFS also would have to consider eliminating support services that it provides at-risk families, reducing the monthly amount it pays foster families and the reducing the number of contracts it has for placing foster care children in residential facilities.
State Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, chairman of the Senate Interim Committee on Children and Youth, said she supports the decision to cut preventative programs to keep caseworkers on the job. She said the federal spending cuts underscore the need for state lawmakers to take a close look at state spending priorities during next year’s legislative session.
“We’ve got to use our money wisely and put it toward programs that work, and if they don’t work we need to get rid of those programs,” Irvin said.
Jennifer Ferguson, deputy director of the nonprofit group Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, said DCFS is not the place to start making spending cuts. She said that when state lawmakers consider their priorities in the next session, protecting children from abuse and neglect should be at the top.
Ferguson also said Arkansas Advocates believes Congress should not cut spending without looking at ways to raise revenue.
“There’s obviously a balanced approach on it,” she said. “When it starts getting so tight that you’ve got to cut some programs such as these that serve kids who have been abused and neglected, that’s not a good spot to be in.”
Irvin said she believes the federal government should cut wasteful spending rather than raise revenue.
“I don’t support increasing (revenue) when you’ve got example after example after example of the federal government abusing the taxpayers’ dollars,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, said in an email that “bold reforms” are needed to reduce wasteful spending throughout the federal government.
Without them, “these sorts of cuts will become more and more frequent and will become the new reality,” he said