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Proposed budget cuts impact child welfare services

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Posted at 10:08 PM, Jun 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-09 01:08:48-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - In the wake of the coronavirus budget crisis, cuts are being proposed to child welfare services.

The proposed cuts come just weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced new investments totaling $42 million to protect younger Californians at heightened risk for abuse and mistreatment due to COVID-19.

The April announcement directed funding to support families struggling to stay together, additional social worker outreach, family resources centers, and age extension for foster youth, among other things.

According to the County of San Diego, "The funds approved by Governor Newsom will be used in part, as earmarked, benefiting Child Welfare families receiving emergency response and family maintenance services. The County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, Child Welfare Services is partnering with the state as it seeks to provide $200 monthly payments to families with children who are at risk of entering foster care. In addition, funds were allocated to help youth who have exited out of the Child Welfare System. The funds will allow foster youth who turn 21 to extend their stay in foster care to prevent potential homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. San Diego is receiving $480,000 in Transitional Housing Program funds from SB80 which will be used to reduce youth homelessness through the expansion of transitional housing so that we can support youth exiting foster care even after the funds provided for COVID response are no longer available. Funds are also allocated for youth to get access to cell phones and laptops through the iFoster program to continue to participate in educational activities and stay connected with their families during COVID-19. iFoster and San Diego County Child Welfare Services have been working together since 2013 to provide resources to children, youth and caregivers. CWS began working with iFoster to provide cell phones to foster youth in 2019 and will continue this partnership. "

But that money will only last so long. The governor's May budget revise contains cuts to children's programs.

The budget states: "Child Welfare Services include family support and maltreatment prevention services, child protective services, foster care services, and permanency programs. California's child welfare system provides a continuum of services for children who are either at risk of or have suffered, abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Program success is measured in terms of improving the safety, permanence, and well-being of children and families. The May Revision includes $506.1 million General Fund on 2020-21 for these programs, a decrease of $90.5 million General Fund since the Governor's Budget. When federal, state, 1991 Realignment, and 2011 Realignment funds are included, total funding for children's programs is over $6.7 billion in 2020-21."

The proposal eliminates Foster Family Agency social worker rate increases, eliminates the Family Urgent Response System, and eliminates the Public Health Nurse Early Intervention Program in Los Angeles County.

"This is a time where we need to see, not cuts, but increased investment in the kinds of supports that help families meet basic needs and avoid some of the financial stresses and then receive the kinds of services and support for dealing with any issues that may trigger some abuse," said Jessica Heldman with the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego.

Heldman said they're concerned about funding to help prevent abuse and neglect, funding to foster care services, and making sure there's money to support young adults who are transitioning out of the system and have no support beyond the system.

She said transitional youth leave the system at 18 or 21 and don't have a parent or legal guardian who can help with financial support or emotional support. Something as simple as a place to stay.

"They are high risk of some pretty poor outcomes, and it's going to take a real investment to make sure that we put them in the best position possible when they are going to be struggling," Heldman said.

Heldman explained many of the youth aging out of Foster Care are losing their jobs. She cited a recent survey of about 600 transition-age foster youth across the country. It showed 65 percent of the respondents had lost their job, one in five said they are concerned about not having enough money to eat, and more than half of them had not received stimulus checks.

"I think people are unaware of this population of young adults and older teens who really need the support and need to be a priority or else they are going to become the parents of the next generation who are struggling economically, and the cost to that in our society is going to be far greater than the investment now to make sure that they stay on their feet," she said.

Experts say a budget proposal from the Legislature released last week restores many of the cuts proposed by the governor.

According to the floor report of the 2020-21 budget, “The Legislature Rejects the Governor's May Revision proposal to eliminate the Foster Family Agency social worker rate increases in 2020-21, Rejects the Governor's May Revision proposal to eliminate the Family Urgent Response System and Rejects the Governor's May Revision proposal to eliminate the Public Health Nurse Early Intervention Program in Los Angeles County among other things.”

The overview of the floor report states, "The Speaker of the Assembly, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and the Assembly and Senate Budget Committee Chairs announced a legislative agreement on the 2020-21 state budget on June 3, 2020. This sets the stage for legislative negotiations on the budget with the Governor and his administration. The Legislature will meet the June 15 deadline to pass a balanced budget bill."

"It is the responsibility of the state to ensure that children who depend on child welfare and foster care youth programs can do so confidently and without fear of abandonment, especially during these uncertain times. I have been a longtime advocate for youth, and I strongly believe that the state funding provided to these programs cannot be compromised. As budget negotiations continue, I urge the Governor's office not to balance the budget on the backs of children who need our help," Assemblymember Brian Maienschein told 10News.

County of San Diego Health and Human Services representatives said the agency is monitoring the budget process, what is submitted and what the governor will sign.