Lawmakers debate child services cuts debated |

Lawmakers debate child services cuts debated

Associated Press Writer

Nevada lawmakers said Monday that proposed cuts and staff reductions in state Division of Child and Family Services programs are coming at a time when more and more children need the division’s services.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said Nevada ranks 42nd in the nation in incarceration of juveniles, and 44th in the nation in child welfare expenditures.

“Obviously, these are very tough economic times, but it’s even more critical that we make prudent decisions now with our budget,” Buckley said.

Representatives from Washoe and Clark counties, Nevada’s largest, told legislators at a joint Senate-Assembly budget hearing that they’re anticipating a ripple effect in the need for services because of the economic downturn.

“I do believe that we are seeing families that are losing their housing and losing their jobs, and needing shelter,” said Kevin Schiller, Director of Washoe County Social Services, adding that his agency could lose 10 to 15 staffers.

“That’s significant in our world, because they are staff that support relative foster parents,” Schiller said, explaining that the employees now get food vouchers for families and file court reports, and would pass those responsibilities to overloaded social workers.

“If we don’t have the staff to do it, it’s going to impact those families,” Schiller said.

Tom Morton, director of Clark County Family Services, said that the budget cuts would decrease his county’s ability to place siblings in foster homes together.

Julia Ratti, director of the Human Services Network, said after the meeting that she was also concerned that the budget reductions could result in losing federal money, because of inability on the part of the state to match the funds.

The debate developed as lawmakers reviewed the division’s Community Juvenile Justice Program. Program officials initially sought a 9 percent increase in a two-year budget of about $5.6 million, but instead were recommended by Gov. Jim Gibbons for a slight decrease.

Mike Pomi, Director of Washoe County Juvenile Services, lamented the lack of funding for successful community programs. He said that a shortage of beds in community facilities, combined with proposed budget cuts, could mean that more juveniles are sent to out-of-state institutions.

“I’m disturbed if we’re sending them there because Medicaid would pay for it, and not keeping them in Reno or Vegas, in a more appropriate community-based program,” said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno.

“If we had more funds available in the community block grant money, we would be able to keep more kids statewide in their communities,” Pomi said.

Lawmakers also discussed AB83, which would expand the definition of “abuse and neglect” of a child to include drug or alcohol abuse. Critics said the bill is too broad, because it applies to over-the-counter prescriptions, and a parent who takes allergy medicine or other common drugs could be deemed abusive if the child suffered withdrawal symptoms after birth.