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DCYF Sticks Up Legislators

August 16, 2007 permalink

The article below illustrates better than any other why it is impossible to reform the child protection system. Rhode Island DCYF, under attack by a lawsuit from the state government, has fought back. They have given the legislators the dilemma of: give us more money or we will starve your children. The legislature has already provided money for the purpose, but DCYF has failed to reserve money for foster children first. There is only one possible outcome — the legislators will appropriate more taxpayer money for the profligate child protectors.

The protectors operate with the same moral code as a hostage taker: give me money or I will kill the secretary. There can be no reform until children are no longer cared for with appropriated funds. This proposal is no pipe dream. In the twentieth century countries containing a third of the world's people abolished private farming and had food produced by the state. The result in every case was chronic food shortage or famine. A hundred million hungry people died, more than in battle. Perhaps a children's holocaust of similar proportions will be necessary to force abandonment of the system, and turn children over to the care of private parties, primarily parents, and in extraordinary cases, charity.



DCYF money woes may leave providers short

PROVIDENCE — The Department of Children, Youth and Families is having a difficult summer.

The agency learned in late June that it was a target of a sweeping class-action lawsuit filed by the state’s child advocate, alleging widespread abuse in Rhode Island’s foster-care system.

Then, the agency was blocked by a Family Court judge from implementing a new policy mandated by the General Assembly that was touted as a cost-saving measure.

Now, it appears that the department is about to go broke.

The DCYF is on pace to spend its entire first-quarter child-welfare budget by mid September, agency director Patricia Martinez said yesterday. And a provision passed in the state budget prevents state officials from shifting money to cover the shortfall until the beginning of the second quarter, Oct. 1.

That will temporarily leave the department unable to pay dozens of child-welfare providers — group homes, shelters, and independent-living programs — that care for thousands of Rhode Island children removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect.

The immediate effect on the children in state custody is unclear, Martinez said. The providers are not legally required to care for Rhode Island’s children without payment.

“That’s something we need to figure out,” Martinez said. “It affects the providers, but also the kids.”

Child-welfare providers representing nearly 40 organizations held an emergency meeting late last week to discuss the DCYF’s financial situation, according to James Harris Jr., the executive director for the Rhode Island Council of Resource Providers.

While Martinez predicts running out of money by Sept. 15, the providers fear it may come even sooner, according to Harris. “I’m hearing the situation is dire,” he said.

Whether or not they get paid, Harris said most providers would struggle to continue caring for the children.

But some organizations may be forced to take out loans to cover monthly expenses such as payroll, rent and utilities, according to Benedict F. Lessing Jr., executive director of Family Resources Community Action, a service provider that offers specialized foster care.

“The implication is that providers have to go to the bank to borrow money,” Lessing said. “Most nonprofit providers can only do that for so long.”

Martinez said it was “realistic” to think that some companies would be forced to take out bank loans to cover expenses. “I think this is one of the most difficult times for any provider,” she said. “I don’t envy them.”

The looming shortfall at the DCYF is attributed largely to cost-cutting provisions in the state budget that have been blocked by the Family Court.

The General Assembly cut the DCYF’s budget by roughly $12 million based on a plan to reduce and restructure services for roughly 600 foster children, ages 18 to 21, who receive state-subsidized health care, housing and education assistance.

In a test case last month, however, Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah Jr. rejected the DCYF’s attempt to end Family Court involvement with Kenneth K., a 20-year-old resident of a state group home. Jeremiah said the budget legislation isn’t retroactive, so it can’t apply to Kenneth, who was under the court’s jurisdiction before the change took effect.

The state Supreme Court declined to overrule Jeremiah, but plans this fall to decide whether to hear a DCYF appeal. The DCYF, however, doesn’t have the luxury of waiting until the fall to abide by the state budget that took effect July 1.

Aside from the Family Court’s ruling, the situation is also complicated by the Assembly’s decision this year to release the DCYF’s financing in four quarterly payments in an attempt to control department overspending — a control applied only to DCYF this year, according to House Finance Committee Chairman Steven M. Costantino.

“We were very concerned about overspending in DCYF. Every year they would come to the Assembly for a supplemental request and we’d find out that a half year has gone by and they’ve already blown by their budget,” Costantino said.

Last year, for example, the Assembly approved a $17.9-million supplemental appropriation (including federal dollars) at the end of the session on top of the DCYF’s $293-million budget.

The quarterly allotments, Costantino said, were a safeguard put in place after the Assembly agreed to restore partial financing for services to 18-to-21 year olds in state care, which the governor had proposed cutting. The plan also required the DCYF to redesign its system to save money by improving department inefficiencies.

“There has not been a lack of money for DCYF over the years,” Costantino said. “Unfortunately, it seems that there has to be a major financial crisis to make change.”

Governor Carcieri’s spokesman Jeff Neal said the governor would reach out to Assembly leadership for guidance in the DCYF’s budget dilemma. The governor’s staff believes it can’t shift money from another area to help the DCYF pay its bills before the end of the quarter based on language in the state budget.

“If the General Assembly has another interpretation, we are very interested in hearing it,” Neal said.

Meanwhile, Judge Jeremiah wasn’t sympathetic to the DCYF’s budget situation when contacted this week.

“I’m only concerned about the best we can do for children in our system that have been neglected and abused. That’s the primary responsibility of every judge in Family Court,” he said. “[The Assembly] should have gone and put more money in [DCYF’s] budget.”

Source: Providence Journal