While its welcome news that the states most vulnerable residents wont be subjected to another massive budget cut, dont be fooled by the Indiana Department of Child Services announcement that it will spend $37.8 million on child-protection programs.
The three-year spending plan represents no new funding. The only good news, in fact, is that the agency will cut just $16 million instead of the nearly $104 million cut in the last fiscal year.
DCS, under fire for the deaths of more than two dozen children who died after their families came in contact with the protection agency, pitched the reallocation of its general fund dollars as support for new and enhanced services for children and families. About a third of the money comes from the federal government.
We are now asking our providers to begin utilizing certified programs, said John Ryan, chief of staff for DCS, in a news conference Wednesday. I would offer that the monies we are now spending are being spent in a very focused, strategic, cost-efficient way.
That money includes dollars for Healthy Families, which apparently didnt meet the agencys definition of cost-efficient until now. DCS eliminated all state funding for the research-backed prevention program in the 2011 fiscal year. SCAN, which provides child abuse prevention programs in 18 counties in northeast Indiana, once served 1,150 families through the program. After budget cuts, the agency was forced to reduce staffing from 59 to 34 and just 570 families received services.
I am happy to see some state funding put back in for Healthy Families, said Lockwood Marine, a board member for Indiana Kids First Trust Fund. Thats positive, though a long way from where we were three years ago. At least its an indication that the folks at DCS have gotten the message. They need to do more funding of abuse prevention.
Marine noted administrative expenses increased more than 30 percent between 2008 and 2011, while spending on services decreased more than 10 percent.
We know that during the last three years – particularly the last year and a half – care providers around the state had to go on a triage program where you only handled the worst cases. Many of the providers around the state had to reduce staff, so that meant fewer services. All of the things that come from not getting service for abused kids – physical harm, deaths, increased problems in school, increased crime, etc., etc., all have links to abuse as a child. I dont know the number that didnt get served.
Which means the true cost of those decreased services will never be known.
When lawmakers question DCS Director James Payne during study committee meetings later this summer, they shouldnt allow the harm already done to be glossed over by his agencys newfound support for prevention services. Cutting services to children at risk is poor policy even during a recession.