Saturday, July 12, 2008

State budget cuts will harm foster children

County frets over ‘foster freeze’
State proposal could affect 1,073 kids across SCV
Geyer, Katherine. The Signal, July 11, 2008.

Local social workers and foster children advocates said Thursday the 1,073 Santa Clarita Valley foster children will suffer from the proposed state budget that would cut an estimated $44 million from services throughout Los Angeles County.

“Real children in real crises cannot wait until next year or the year after for our state to resolve those problems,” Leslie Heimov, executive director of the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles, said at a news conference in Valencia on Thursday. “The state must now make good on its promise to care for and protect these children.”

The county would see a 10 percent reduction in funding if the proposed 2008-2009 state budget is adopted, according to the County Welfare Directors Association. Statewide, child welfare services and foster care programs would see a $320 million reduction.

The budget would cut the payment rate for foster care providers and foster family agencies and would reduce the number of county social workers, according to the organization.

Heimov said the proposed budget is “unacceptable” for the children and, if adopted, would result in “poorer quality of education, fewer doctors to treat them, less frequent visits by a social worker and less access to our already overburdened courts.”

Gerokeshia Campbell, a former foster parent, said the budget cuts would make it harder for families who want to help out.

“Unfortunately the governor’s budget proposal will make it tougher for more families to make this important choice and take on this critical role,” Campbell said. “While many families would love to welcome a child into their home, with high gas prices and high food prices and economic worries, they just can’t do it without state assistance.”

California has operated for nearly two weeks without a budget and that has meant delays in payments to foster care programs, said Virginia Sandoval, a social worker with the county Department of Children and Family Services. “As it is, there is already a great delay in services,” she said.

The Assembly and Senate were supposed to pass a budget by June 15, and Schwarzenegger was to have signed it by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

If lawmakers fail to pass a budget by Aug. 1, the state is preparing to borrow money to cover expenses before it runs out of cash in September.

The state’s total spending plan under the budget Schwarzenegger released in May was $144.3 billion for the current fiscal year, a figure that includes special obligation funds and money to repay bonds.

“Our children did not create the budget problems,” Heimov said. “Our legislators have a responsibility to fund critical services that provide critical care to our most vulnerable children.”