Children’s Law Center Executive Director Judith Sandalow testified before the DC Council Committee on Human Services regarding the proposed Fiscal Year 2012 budget for the Child and Family Services Agency. While noting the wise protection of two essential programs – Rapid Housing and the Grandparent Caregiver Program – Sandalow pointed out several critical problems with the budget including cuts to children’s mental health services.
In addition to cuts within the CFSA budget, Sandalow testified that city-wide cuts to homeless services, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other safety net programs will result in more children entering foster care due to issues such as inadequate housing. Entering foster care has devastating consequences for a child and is expensive for taxpayers – an estimated $50,000 in local District dollars per child per year.
Sandalow advocated for 4 major changes to the proposed CFSA budget:
- Restore funding for children’s mental health and prevention.
CFSA already links far too few children and families to evidence-based mental health care before removing children from their homes. And once children are removed, CFSA’s own statistics show many are not screened for mental health needs. The proposed budget eliminates a $2.5 million annual agreement with the Department of Mental Health (DMH) to develop specialized mental health services for foster children. The proposed budget would also cut about $900,000 from the Office of Clinical Practice, the office which contracts for medical and mental health services that foster children need, as well as cut another $121,000 from unspecified prevention services.
- Specify existing funds for differential response.
CFSA and the Council must fully and effectively implement the Families Together Amendment Act of 2010, which allows CFSA to respond more effectively to the variety of calls made to the child protection hotline. In low risk situations, CFSA would be able to act in a more supportive role, rather than an investigative and punitive role, providing services more quickly to keep children safe with their families. Putting this Act in place requires only a technical fix in the budget – putting into writing funds CFSA has already publicly committed to the initiative.
- Account for reasonably expected federal revenue.
Under a federal law that took effect October 1, 2010, CFSA is eligible to recoup millions of dollars in federal revenue for the costs of keeping 18, 19 and 20 year olds in foster care. In the District, 18- to 20-year-olds represent one quarter of the foster care population, thus the revenue potential is significant. However, CFSA does not account for this money in its budget. If it did account for such anticipated revenue, CFSA could erase the devastating cuts to children’s mental health and even invest in new or expanded prevention programs.
- Make alternative cuts.
CFSA can save about $500,000 by eliminating Structured Progress Reviews, which provide a “reviewer” to go through each case with the social worker every six months and make recommendations. These reviews duplicate discussions that occur at Family Court hearings, and unlike reviewers, a judge has the authority to remedy any problems that come to light. CFSA can also eliminate managerial positions without harming services to children.
Read the full testimony here.