OACCA’s Review of Community Roundtables on Children and Family Services

OACCA logoWe greatly appreciate everyone who turned out to attend the OACCA Community Roundtables on Children and Family Services. Five total events were held during August and September 2009 in Cincinnati, Van Wert, Youngstown, Wooster and Cleveland. 

The events drew over 150 participants, including: a Member of Congress and Congressional staff members, state legislators, county commissioners, a city mayor, directors and senior staff from county children services, mental health and alcohol and drug board, and family and children first council agencies, and directors and senior staff from private OACCA member agencies. We would like to thank the following organizations for hosting the events with us: The Children’s Home of Cincinnati, Starr Commonwealth, Voices for Ohio’s Children, The Village Network, and Beech Brook.

The purposes of the events were to 1) inform stakeholders of important developments to the child and family service system, particularly occurring from the state budget, and 2) discuss methods and strategies to public and private agencies and policymakers can follow to protect vital social services for communities. While the attendance and format of each event varied, the messages heard are very consistent:

County children service, mental health, and alcohol and drug addiction agencies are starting to experience the consequences of reduced state funding. While many state funding line items were eliminated or significantly reduced in the FY10-11 state budget, county agencies are doing their best to prioritize and streamline services to meet the growing needs of their constituencies. Long term effects of prioritization and streamlining efforts include layoffs of crucial staff members, termination of optional community programs, termination or “slimming” of contracts with private agencies, and most important, many successful systems of care that have been built over the past decades are beginning to come apart. While child protection investigations have spiked recently, some counties are responding by increasing family preservation efforts.

Policy makers should focus further funding cuts away from social service programs that serve children. If  further cuts are needed during FY10-11, policymakers should carefully consider the consequences of cutting additional mental and behavioral health, child protection, foster and kinship care, adoption, and independent living services for Ohio children. Particularly for programs that have proven to be cost effective, further cuts will dig our budget into a deeper hole for years to come. Some participants urged the state to focus cuts on overhead of state and county agencies instead of direct services to Ohioans. HB65 was discussed, which would require performance budgeting and audits by most state agencies.

Tough times call for creative solutions. Policymakers should not only search for areas to cut excess state funding, they should work with their community partners and statewide advocates to propose new and creative ideas to manage programs and services already in place. The organization and structure of state and county agencies, computer information systems, and relieving mandates and lessening regulations on private agencies should be considered. Some participants supported the merger of the Ohio Departments of Mental Health and Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services.

Increasing public-private partnerships was also discussed as a strategy to pursue.A good example is the Ohio Department of Youth Services’ decision to bid out their Community Based Treatment Center program to private agencies. Lastly, the General Assembly should consider pursuing statewide child welfare financing reform. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, funding for the Ohio child welfare system is supported primarily by the federal government (43%) and county governments (43%), with only 13% provided by the state government, which is one of the lowest shares in the country.

Increasing revenues is essential. Our state cannot cut its way out of the recession. Traditional and alternative revenue enhancement measures should be considered by the Governor and General Assembly, such as tax increases, postponing tax reductions, or the establishment of casinos.

Collaboration is needed to develop a unified voice on children service funding. Instead of competing against each other, associations, advocacy organizations, and other statewide groups should develop a unified voice on state funding for children and family service programs. There are shared priorities that can be the basis of a unified policy platform. One participant urged ODJFS to employ a consultant in Washington, D.C. to lobby for human services dollars for Ohio.

We understand that a unified voice is needed to ensure that the state supports child and family service programs at the required levels. OACCA will partner with local and state agencies, the General Assembly, Governor, and other statewide associations and coalitions to advocate for our positions on these crucial issues.

While there is a long road ahead to restore many funding and program cuts, we are excited that Governor Strickland has recently announced his support for increased revenues by postponing an income tax reduction. The State of Ohio cannot sustain another round of cuts. We support the idea that a balanced approach is needed to effectively manage state programs. We look forward to working with our partners, including the Campaign to Protect Ohio’s Future, to continue delivering this important message.

Posted with approval from Mark Mecum, Associate Director for Government Relations, Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies (OACCA). 614-461-0014 or mmecum@oacca.org.

OACCA is a statewide association of private and public agencies that provide a wide array of services to children and families across the state. Association members provide services to thousands of children and families annually, allowing them to achieve and maintain independence and productivity. For more information, visit www.oacca.org

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