Federal Cuts Jeopardize Child Welfare Programs in Arkansas

Programs that Arkansas officials say “have helped thousands of struggling families” will be cut because of the loss of federal funding. KARK 4 News has more:

The cuts will require the Department of Human Services (DHS) to eliminate a child abuse prevention program that put workers in 27 school districts, eliminate funding for Family Resource Centers and reduce funding for the State Police Crimes Against Children Division (CACD) and some family support programs beginning July 1.

The impact of these losses remains to be seen, but child abuse prevention and family support programs are vital components of an effective child welfare system. The state’s leadership noted the challenges Arkansas now faces:

“We don’t want to see these services reduced, but this is the reality of federal budget cuts,” Governor Mike Beebe said. “Cutting federal programs has real consequences for real people, and we will continue providing the best services we can with fewer dollars.”

Although the state is trying to find ways to keep at least some of these programs alive, there are more federal funding cuts expected in the future, which could have an even more severe impact on the children and families of Arkansas.

Much deeper federal cuts to TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] funding are anticipated to hitDCFS [Division of Children and Family Services] in state fiscal year 2014, [DCFS Director Cecile] Blucker said. If those cuts go through, DCFS would not be able to manage the 34,000 child maltreatment investigations it handles today.

According to Blucker, DCFS would have to consider resorting to some desperate measures in order to keep running after the cuts hit. These measures include eliminating support services for at-risk families and reducing the amount it pays foster families to take in kids who need a home.

Another possibility would be modifications to Arkansas’ Child Maltreatment Act, which sets forth what qualifies as child abuse and neglect in the state. Blucker says DCFS may have to request modifications in an effort to lower the number of investigations for child abuse and neglect. The move would save the state money, but, according to Blucker, these changes could include:

…inadequate food, clothing and shelter for children age six and older, inadequate supervision of children age 9 and older, environmental and educational neglect, and some cases of medical neglect. Depending on how deep the cuts, some categories may need to be totally removed from the Child Maltreatment Act.