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NEW APPROACHES NEEDED TO SAVE FOSTER CHILDREN

Gov. Pataki's budget slashes more than one-third of the state's funding for essential children's services such as foster care and child protection.

Among the most cost-effective programs that will be almost eliminated under this plan are the preventive services that help families avoid the need for costly out-of-home placement of their children. At least 850 children in Erie County would not receive Foster Care Prevention Services.

Funds would not be available to continue caring for 560 of the county's 2,335 children now in foster care. Children who are denied preventive services, child protective services or foster care will suffer the effects of neglect and physical or sexual abuse.

The governor hopes that additional federal aid will help offset this reduction in state funds. Yet, Congress is moving to eliminate many entitlements and unfunded mandates while reducing funds for other programs through block grants.

Instead of being rescued by federal funding, Erie County faces a 5.8 percent increase in property taxes for the cost of these services in our county.

The Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies points to these creative ways to cut costs:

Reduce caseloads and expedite permanent placement for children who are in foster care by creating a subsidized guardianship program for children whose extended families can care for them. Potential savings: $20 million total ($7 million state share).

Reduce the time children waiting for adoption spend in foster care by streamlining the termination of parental rights and allowing adoptions to be finalized by court officers other than judges. Potential savings: $27 million total ($9 million state share).

Reduce out-of-state placements for children with serious mental health problems. When programs operated by the State Division for Youth and/or the Office of Mental Health have no room to place children in New York State, they are placed in out-of-state facilities.

This is more expensive than placement in non-profit, voluntary agencies within New York State. Local placement also gives families a better chance to visit their children. Potential savings: $30 million total ($20 million state share).

Shifting the state's responsibilities onto local governments and voluntary agencies is shortsighted. The problems it will cause are more difficult and more expensive to solve than to prevent.

JAMES D. LAWSON
Vice President for Residential Services
Child and Family Services
Buffalo

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