Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Indiana agency cuts funds to help at-risk parents

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — The Indiana Department of Child Services has cut millions of dollars from its Healthy Families program, leaving social service providers worried that counseling fewer at-risk parents could lead to more child abuse and neglect.

That could in turn result in more children being placed in foster care, they said.

“These are our most needy families,” Pat Zakula, executive director of the Children First Center in four northeastern Indiana counties, told The Journal Gazette. “These are the kids that are going to be abused and neglected if we’re not careful.”

Healthy Families, funded mostly with federal dollars, began in the mid-1990s as a way for social workers to interact with high-risk new parents and coach them as their children developed.

Lisa Rich, who oversees Healthy Families for the Department of Child Services, said the agency tried to make more than $40 million in budget cuts by slicing programs least likely to affect families.

“These are tough economic times, and difficult decisions have to be made, because we just don’t have the funding we did a year ago,” Rich said.

Healthy Families is voluntary, and many participants are young, single mothers in poverty. Nearly all are unemployed or underemployed. Many have criminal records or histories of substance abuse, mental illness or being abused themselves, said Lorri Rowe, an administrator for Stop Child Abuse and Neglect, or SCAN, which provides Healthy Families services in Allen County.

“They are parents who want to be better moms and dads. They want to make positive changes in their lives to make sure they are providing a healthy home environment,” Rowe said.

Under Healthy Families, the state awards money to local agencies across Indiana and those agencies send caseworkers into homes after evaluating potential candidates for assistance.

Figures provided by SCAN show the abuse and neglect rate among families who participate in the program is half that among families in Indiana overall.

SCAN, which Rowe said was the second-largest provider of Healthy Families services in the nation, lost $1.3 million, a quarter of its budget, Rowe said. SCAN’s reduction represented almost 20 percent of the statewide cut to Healthy Families.

As a result of the cut, SCAN cut counseling services to 300 of its 1,500 families and expects to drop 200 more next year, Rowe said.

The state required providers like SCAN to reduce administrative costs to 15 percent of their budgets, and it forced providers serving counties with fewer than 500 live births a year to consolidate.


Posted 2/15/2010




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