Education, health care should not be sacrificed

Editor’s note: The following column was submitted by Betty A. Brisk, director of communications for Children’s Home & Aid Society, as a letter to the editor.

From everything we’ve read and heard, this is a very challenging time to be in Springfield. Making decisions about funding priorities for the next year can’t be easy, especially given the economy and the financial health of our state.

As leaders in the child welfare industry, we agree with leadership that it is important to balance the budget without sacrificing the funding of education and health care. We also feel strongly that decisions needed to be both fiscally and socially wise. We worry, however, that this year’s budget is being inadvertently balanced on the backs of those who need the most help: children who have suffered through abuse and neglect.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has, over the past several years, worked diligently to reduce the number of children in its care. Successful initiatives have ensured that many children have a permanent home and have resulted in a significant decrease in the number of children being served by the child welfare community. An additional result is that only the most troubled children remain in the system, and those children require high levels of care.

Private agencies provide direct care for approximately 80 percent of all of the children currently in the system. These agencies, however, have not received a rate increase to care for these children in the past four years. This has forced us to raise private funds, through individual donations, to pay for our programs. This has also, unfortunately, forced cuts in these same programs for children and their families. Foster parents, who provide caring and loving homes for thousands of children, have not received the necessary support. Other agencies have closed their doors after serving communities for decades.

And now DCFS is being asked to cut more than $100 million from its budget this year. These cuts will result in even less services to Illinois’ abused and neglected children. Where is the wisdom behind such a request, especially in a year that has seen a rise in the number of child deaths across the state by 45 percent, a rise in the indicated reports of abuse and a rise in the number of infants being exposed to illegal drugs at birth? These cuts can only lead to devastating and dangerous results for our children.

We encourage the state Legislature to pass a budget as soon as possible that reflects a real commitment to children who have suffered through abuse and neglect. This means minimal or no cuts to the DCFS budget. Now more than ever, the state of Illinois’ most vulnerable children need our help. Many of them have been abused and abandoned by their families. As a community, we should not abandon these children again.

Thomas C. VandenBerk, president, Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network; Dr. Robert Bloom, executive director, Jewish Children’s Bureau; Joe Loftus, executive director, The Youth Campus; Nancy Ronquillo, president & CEO, Children’s Home & Aid Society of Illinois; Barbara Jones Green, executive director, Lakeside Community Committee; Martin R. Sinnott, president & CEO, Central Baptist Family Services and Hudelson Family Services.

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