Those in need hit hardest by economic times

Note: This column appears in the 3/12 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 3/13 issue of the Peoria Times

It’s not breaking news that we’re all living through some tough economic times. It’s one thing however to acknowledge this fact and quite another to experience its effects firsthand.

Over a month ago I wrote about our first experience as foster parents, and I mentioned our anticipation of receiving another placement. Well, we’re still waiting. Last week we found out why.

Governor Jan Brewer recently signed legislation with regards to revised budget cuts for the state. In short, due to the current economic circumstances, the state is cutting back on social service funding. Drastically.

You may not have heard about this, with all of the economic attention focused on foreclosures, struggling investment firms, and the fact that Manny Ramirez is finally (whew!) signed. But what does this mean, exactly?

What it means is this: Children in need are a drain on the local economy. The state has cut back the stipend it distributes for foster parents –- nothing special to begin with, believe me –- by 20%. Other allowances have been radically reduced as well. For example:

Special needs allowance (holidays, birthdays, special occasions) cut from $45 to $22.50 a year.

Merry Christmas, Jimmy! I know your wish this year again was for a family, but instead here is a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, courtesy of the state! Isn't that nice? Also, Happy Birthday. Because that is also your birthday present.

My wife and I, for now at least, are thankfully in a position where this wouldn’t affect our ability to provide the best care for a foster child. Other foster parents who are providing care out of the goodness of their hearts and relying on the already minimum state-funded support may no longer be able to do so.

But that may not even matter, because foster children are becoming an extinct species here in Arizona. Due to the state’s inability to provide proper financial support for those in need, Child Protective Services (CPS) has been advised to not pull children from homes unless absolutely necessary:

DES will NOT investigate 100 percent of potential risk reports made to the Child Protective Services because of CPS staff cutbacks and furloughs potentially leaving thousands of children at risk.

You can read between the lines on this one, but what it essentially means is more children being left in abusive and neglectful homes. It’s up to CPS now –- understaffed and underfunded in its own right -- to straddle the fine line between “absolutely necessary” and “too late.”

But what about children in caring and loving homes with special needs? Well, they’ve been left in the dust completely. The state has terminated therapeutic funding –- like, totally –- for children under three years old:

Services for children ages 0-3 who are approved for DDD funding because of severe developmental delays, medical issues, or risk of having long-term deficits in social-adaptive, cognitive, fine motor, gross motor, communication and/or feeding will lose all services, including early intervention, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy effective March 1, 2009.

Fantastic. The state would rather wait until these kids reach school-level age so they can receive the minimum in-house support. Besides the obvious long-term implications, I imagine this will make school that much more enjoyable for children already struggling to adapt socially.

Believe me I realize that in these days and times everybody needs a little help, and requests for assistance are coming from all directions. Everybody wants their economic stimulus, and it can be difficult to determine who deserves it more. A simple philosophy is this: an investment in the future never hurts. A non-investment in the future always hurts.

Or, we can just wait. Wait a few years until the six o’clock news, when one of the many children left in an abusive home commits their own act of violence. Then we can direct our self-righteous anger at the criminal and not the circumstances, which is much easier. Or wait a decade or so, when there’s a feature story on the extreme need for increased educational funding because so many kids are being left back in school. In short, just wait until it’s too late.

Or absolutely necessary. Whatever you want to call it.

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Anonymous said…
It is a travesty what the Governor has done to ruin the lives of an entire generation of children in Arizona!! I hope she can sleep at night! Did you hear that Jan? are destroying children's lives!!