Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Cuts to safety net programs may devastate families, kids

Child care subsidies, services for disabled affected

Blanca Bergeron, assistant director of Outer Limits Child Care, reads to (from left) Patrick Dwyer, Aubrianna Leon, Sophia Casey and Morgan Bernal. About 30 percent of the families at Outer Limits get a state subsidy to pay part of their fees at the school.

Blanca Bergeron, assistant director of Outer Limits Child Care, reads to (from left) Patrick Dwyer, Aubrianna Leon, Sophia Casey and Morgan Bernal. About 30 percent of the families at Outer Limits get a state subsidy to pay part of their fees at the school.

Tucsonan Octavio Barajas, a 40-year-old single parent of two, began receiving a child-care subsidy from the state several years ago.

It enabled him to keep his two children in after-school day care while he worked full time.

But Barajas expects to lose that state aid by March 13, a result of $153 million in new cuts to the Department of Economic Security’s 2009 budget. The revised budget was approved by Gov. Jan Brewer on Jan. 31.

On Wednesday, however, Brewer announced that she is moving to undo the budget cut to subsidized child care by using $25 million in federal stimulus money. State Senate and House leaders are discussing her proposal and haven’t reached a conclusion.

The day before Brewer offered to use stimulus money for child care, she told state agencies to expect cuts for next fiscal year of 5 percent to 25 percent.

Cuts to other DES programs are still going forward.

They will reduce substance abuse services to parents; physical, speech and occupational therapy to developmentally disabled children, such as those with Down syndrome; and the in-home programs that teach parenting skills in families at risk for child neglect or abuse.

“The agency has had to reduce or eliminate various contractor services and has reduced the rates paid to providers, including child care and developmental disabilities,” said Liz Barker Alvarez, spokeswoman for DES in Phoenix.

Workers at local nonprofits who provide these services have had their hours cut and some have been transferred to other duties.

New families seeking a child care subsidy are being put on a waiting list. Co-pays for parents are expected to rise and rates paid by the state to child care providers could be reduced.

State-only, nonresidential developmental disabilities services to children and adults have been suspended. Rates for residential services providers have been cut by 10 percent.

Child Protective Services also is taking a hit.

“Due to staffing reductions and staff furloughs, we will not be able to investigate all ‘potential risk’ reports of abuse or neglect received by the statewide (child abuse) hot line,” Alvarez said.

“Potential risk” is the lowest risk level in the reports we receive,” she said.

“These were gut-wrenching decisions for our leadership team. But as responsible public administrators, we must manage the programs within the funding appropriated to us,” Alvarez said.

Attempts to talk about the impact of the cuts on families here with Lillian Downing, the DES program manager for the Tucson area, were unsuccessful. She was either out of the office or not available, Alvarez said.

“Ninety-two percent of DES’ budget is spent on client services: 77 percent to direct benefits to customers through the agency or privatized community providers that specialize in social welfare programs,” Alvarez said.

Of that 92 percent, 15 percent “goes to staff, such as case workers and eligibility interviewers, who provide direct services,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez said 700 DES employees statewide were tagged for “staff reduction” and about 9,000 DES employees are subject to mandatory furloughs between now and June 30, the end of the state’s fiscal year.

Dana Wolfe Naimark, CEO of the Children’s Action Alliance, a Phoenix-based nonprofit that advocates for children, has called on Brewer to “reduce the damage” from the revised budget approved by the Legislature to address the $1.6 billion shortfall in state revenues.

Naimark warned in a Feb. 13 statement that the Legislature’s budget cuts “into the very fabric of community and family life.”

She said the $26 million cut in day care subsidies will mean “thousands of children will be left in dangerous situations while their parents are at work and other parents will be forced to reduce their work hours or quit their jobs.”

Barajas, a single parent of two, said he’s so worried about what to do that he can’t sleep.

Like thousands of the working poor, he qualified for help with child care under federal poverty guidelines. But he earns more than 110 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of three.

And only households of three earning less than 110 percent will qualify for child-care subsidies under the announced cutbacks.

That means Barajas will lose the $22.50 weekly subsidy he gets for several hours of child care for two children five days a week.

Barajas said he’s thought about having to quit his job to stay home with his kids, who are too young to be left alone.

“They told me I have 10 days to find something else,” he said.

That’s when the reduced subsidy will kick in.

His son, 8, and daughter, 7, have been attending the same day care center, Outer Limits School, 3472 E. Fort Lowell Road, after school. He picks them up after work.

With his subsidy cut, he could only afford to pay for one of the children to attend Outer Limits. He’s a delivery driver who makes about $400 a week before taxes.

Barajas said he spoke to the people at his children’s elementary school about its after-school program for working parents, Project Shine. They told him there’s a waiting list and they can take only one of his children.

“What am I supposed to do with the other one?” he asked.

Bill Berk, owner of Outer Limits and a second child care center here, said about 30 percent of his customers get a state subsidy to pay part of the fee for day care.

“I think most of the families (facing cuts) will be blindsided,” he said.

The effect of the reduced subsidies to parents will affect his bottom line, he said.

“We can’t keep the children here and not get paid,” Berk said. “As a business owner I am terrified.” He employs 35 full-time and part-time workers.

Berk said he’s already had to consider the possibility of closing one of his child care centers.

Barajas said he’s not taking advantage of social welfare programs, just trying to get by on his wages and $413 a month in food stamps to “make a life for my family.”

“I don’t try to take more than I should. I only want what I really could use, nothing more,” he said.

Abuse, neglect soar as economy sours

GABRIELLE FIMBRES

gfimbres@tucsoncitizen.com (gfimbres@tucsoncitizen.com)

Agencies that protect Tucson’s most vulnerable children are caught in a perfect storm, with a failing economy, a rise in child abuse and sweeping cuts in services that keep families together.

As Tucsonans lost homes and jobs, the number of dependency cases in Pima County Juvenile Court soared by nearly 25 percent in 2008.

And last week, cuts by the Arizona Legislature gutted programs that prevent child abuse and keep kids out of foster care.

“This is one of the unfortunate consequences of a combination of a very bad economy and a dire state budget situation,” said Judge Pat Escher, who presides over Juvenile Court here.

“As economic circumstances deteriorate and people need the safety net, the network is unraveling,” she said.

And left to face the consequences are the children.

Escher is concerned that without support services, more families will lose their children.

When a child is removed from home because of abuse and neglect, Arizona’s Child Protective Services and the courts do what they can to reunify families, Escher said.

Parents are required to follow a plan and complete assignments, which usually include parenting education, counseling and substance abuse treatment.

But budget cuts have wiped out services, leaving parents to wonder if they will be able to keep their families together.

Judge Escher is worried program cuts will undo the court’s work over the past decade to keep children out of foster care.

“If the resources are taken away, it’s going to be difficult for a parent to get themselves into a situation where they can safely parent their child,” she said.

She worries more will end up in foster care.

The long-term outcome of children who grow up in foster care “is not great,” Escher said. They often experience homelessness and are far less likely to complete high school, she said.

Paul Bennett, clinical professor at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, directs the Child Advocacy Clinic there. Through the program, law students represent children in child protective cases in Juvenile Court.

He agrees that cuts in services could harm children.

“If what we’re trying to do is put families back together, if we don’t have the resources to do that, we’re not going to be successful,” he said. “The ability to put families back together is in jeopardy.”

Programs that allow supervised visitation while parents work to get their kids back have been cut. Bennett said those visits are critical.

And stipends to foster families are cut, jeopardizing their ability to properly care for kids.

“We are taking children away from their homes and putting them in homes that are not set up to meet their needs,” Bennett said. “What are we doing here?”

The increase in cases of abuse and neglect is seen at Casa de los Niños crisis shelter. The shelter, 1101 N. Fourth Ave., has been full with 45 children for the past six months, said Susie Huhn, executive director. The shelter normally cares for 20 to 25 kids, from newborns through age 12.

“Unfortunately, when the economy tanks, child abuse reports go up,” Huhn said. “And it’s happening at a time when services that help these families have been cut so severely. Our Legislature chose to cut programs that keep children safe and keep families out of foster care.”

Huhn believes a failing economy and lost jobs result in a higher level of stress among parents, and more abuse and neglect.

Last year, about 50 children from newborns through age 5 were removed from homes each month in Pima County, Huhn said. That number now is nearly 120, she said.

“How do they expect us to meet an already rising demand with fewer resources?” Huhn asked. “We’re not going to be able to keep kids safe.”

Huhn predicted her shelter will see more abused kids.

“Families were stressed before the cuts, and I can’t imagine what we’re going to see in the next few months,” Huhn said.

Cuts to programs that keep kids out of foster care make no sense, Huhn said. She said those programs cost $3,000 to $5,000 a year. Placing a child in foster care costs $18,000 a year. “It isn’t saving anything,” Huhn said.

She believes Arizona was hit more quickly than the rest of the country because of the housing market slump. She said Arizona is cutting more services than any other state.

Among those losing services are kin caregivers – grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings – who step in when parents cannot raise children, often due to addiction, incarceration or mental illness.

Relatives, who are often financially strapped, are losing funding and therapy, said Laurie Melrood, director of KARE Family Center, 4710 E. 29th St. KARE provides services to kin caregivers, serving 1,300 families last year.

Subsidies to children are being cut by 20 percent, Melrood said. Children who once received $204 per month now receive $164.

“For many families, this money is used for clothing and food. This is not luxury money,” Melrood said.

The center is bracing for the impact of the cuts.

“Reduction in services and cuts in money could lead to children being given to the state, which is exactly what the state cannot afford,” Melrood said,

Single dad worries about keeping family together

GABRIELLE FIMBRES

gfimbres@tucsoncitizen.com (gfimbres@tucsoncitizen.com)

Martin Carrillo wants one thing in his life – to keep his family together.

After slapping his 10-year-old son, Michael, last year, Carrillo, 43, nearly lost him to Arizona’s Child Protective Services.

But CPS saw hope that Carrillo, a single dad raising three kids, could do what he needed to keep his family together. So it provided counseling and in-home services to strengthen this family.

Now many of the services are going away after drastic state budget cuts. Carrillo wonders what will become of his family.

“I’m afraid of losing my kids,” he said.

He worries about son Michael, who suffers from mental illness.

Michael is diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder and depression. He experiences hallucinations and hears voices. He tried to hang himself at age 5.

“He has all the traits of schizophrenia, but they won’t diagnose because of his age,” said Carrillo, a night security guard.

The child struggled to control his anger and has been arrested three times, once for hitting a relative in the face with a soda can.

Through individual and family counseling over the past three months, Michael has been able to control his anger, Carrillo said. Counseling has also helped son Martin, 11, who has ADHD, and daughter Amber, 8.

But Carrillo found out last week the family counseling and in-home visits provided by Child & Family Resources with state funding had been cut.

“Without these services, it’s going to be hard,” Carrillo said. “They were helping me manage all this.”

Carrillo knows he was at fault for striking Michael after the child used profanity in the car.

“I reacted the wrong way. I know better. I slapped Michael’s face and gave him a bloody nose.”

When Michael told a teacher, the school “did what they had to do,” Carrillo said, and CPS was called.

But CPS “has done everything in their power to keep us together,” Carrillo said.

Counseling was helping, all in the family agree.

“It was bringing us a lot closer,” Carrillo said. “It stopped me from yelling so much and it taught me how to listen to my kids.”

He’s worried the loss of family counseling could throw Michael into a tailspin.

“I’ll probably be getting mad more often,” Michael said. “I don’t like it.”

Carrillo said he will do anything he can to keep his family together. “We have lots of love. But we need help.”

He thinks counseling and in-home services are the answer.

“When I first started counseling, I didn’t think it would help,” said Carrillo, who believes he has depression. “But having someone to talk to about your problems, it really helps.”

Teacher Elizabeth Pecjak plays with clay with her students Aubrianna Leon (in blue), Jonas Collins and Sophia Casey  in her classroom of 4- and 5-year-olds at Outer Limits Child Care.

Teacher Elizabeth Pecjak plays with clay with her students Aubrianna Leon (in blue), Jonas Collins and Sophia Casey in her classroom of 4- and 5-year-olds at Outer Limits Child Care.

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Will cuts to the state's social safety net programs make the state budget better or worse?
Better. The nanny state needs to end.: 49%
Worse. Desperate people will do desperate things. We'll all pay one way or another.: 45%
I don't know.: 4%
230 users voted

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Cuts to DES effective March 1

The $153 million in cuts to the department of Economic Security include:

• $31.7 million in staff reductions, furloughs and other operating costs

• Eliminating $6 million in upgrades of eligibility and case management systems for family assistance, jobs and child care programs

• $7.4 million reduction in cash assistance grants for 38,500 cases in the program, a reduction of 20 percent a month, from an average $263 a month to $210 a month

• $10.7 million cut in Healthy Families contracts. Program prevents child abuse and neglect.

• $3.2 million cut from foster family subsidies, reducing payments by 20 percent, from an average $910 a month to $728 a month per child

• In-home services to 4,000 children in “at-risk” homes eliminated

• Substance abuse services for 1,400 parents of “at-risk” children eliminated

• Child neglect and abuse prevention services to 3,500 families eliminated

• Foster family stipend per child: cut 20 percent, from about $900 a month per child to about $700

• Annual emergency clothing allowance per child: cut from $300 to $150

• $250 per child camp or vacation allowance: eliminated

• Annual books and educational expenses: cut from $165 to $82.50 per child

Source: Ariz. Dept. of Economic Security

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Read more about DES cuts

www.azdes.gov

On the right side of the Web page, see the 2009 Budget Reduction Impacts memo

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If you go

What: Rally and march protesting state budget cuts for kin caregivers raising children

When: 9 to 11:15 a.m. March 20

Where: Rally at Armory Park, 220 S. Sixth Ave., followed by a march to the Arizona State Building, 400 W. Congress St.

Info: KARE Family Center, 323-4476

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BIG NUMBERS?

Number of children in out-of-home care in District II (Tucson area) as of November 2008:

2,698

Number of children statewide in out-of-home care statewide as of November 2008:

10,321

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