One program provides volunteer advocates for neglected and abused children in Family Court.
A second program helps child care centers work with preschool kids with severe behavioral problems.
Both are scrambling to remain viable next year after losing public funding that made up a large portion of their budgets.
“The reality is that government doesn't have the assets it had five, 10 years ago,” said Michael Weiner, president of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County. “We're seeing a continuous decline in the availability of allocations both at the federal and state level.”
The Mental Health Association of Erie County was notified earlier this month that it will lose an annual $60,000 grant from the state's Unified Court System next spring for Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, or CASA. The money, which made up nearly all of CASA's annual budget, paid for two staff members who coordinated volunteers assigned to help foster children in Family Court.
The second program, coordinated by the United Way, will lose $98,192 from Erie County next year because state money that helped pay for it is needed to help impoverished parents pay for child care.
The program, known as Success by 6, provides training and mentoring to help local child care centers with the social and emotional development of young children.
Kenneth P. Houseknecht, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Erie County, said he worries the cuts to CASA could have a long-term impact on children in Family Court if the funding is not restored. The CASA volunteers visit homes and track the cases of about 160 abused or neglected children in foster care and report that information to Family Court judges.
“How about never having someone in your life who cares about you? How about never having somebody in your life who believes in you? How about never having somebody in your life who sees a better future for you?” Houseknecht said. “That's what our CASA volunteers and advocates do for these children.”
Houseknecht said program administrators had expected the court's funding to last another two years and had been using that money as a foundation to build support from other sources.
“The challenge that we were bumping up against, even before this announcement, is we had a demand for our service, prompted in large part by the success that we're having with the Family Court judges,” Houseknecht said.
State Supreme Court Justice Paula L. Feroleto, administrative judge of the state's Eighth Judicial District of Western New York, said funding for CASA was eliminated across the state next year because of budget restraints in the Unified Court System. The state judicial system added funding for CASA programs to its budget about seven years ago.
“Especially in foster care situations, they advocate for the best interest of children that may be getting placed in foster care,” Feroleto said. “I know that the courts rely on them. I'm sure that the case workers rely on them, and it is a good service. It's certainly very beneficial to the children to have them.”
Houseknecht said the Mental Health Association of Erie County is working to replace the state funding to keep CASA running next year.
Administrators for Erie County's Success by 6 program are also trying to make up a large budget gap after the county's Department of Social Services cut $98,192 from the county's budget that had helped pay for the United Way initiative.
The program, a collaboration with the United Way and provided by the Child Care Resource Network and the Kaleida Health Early Childhood Direction Center, provides training, mentoring and support for child care centers to help with the social and emotional development of young children with behavioral problems. It also operates a hot line to help deal with behavior of preschool children.
“There aren't a lot of programs that do that kind of work,” Weiner said. “If you think about it, child care organizations are left to fend for themselves, so this is a great opportunity for centralized training and support.”
The county budget cut was made because of an increased need for state child care grants to be used for direct child care subsidies, said Peter Anderson, a spokesman for County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. Anderson said the demand for child care subsidies, which helps impoverished parents pay for child care, is up.
The United Way has made a request to the county to roll over program funds not used in 2012 to continue the Success by 6 program at a reduced level next year. The total program budget, including in-kind services provided by agencies, is about $194,000 before the county's cut, Weiner said.
“It's a great example of, if you get to kids early and you provide the support to the family they need, the likelihood is that child's going to do better in child care, go on to kindergarten and begin to thrive,” Weiner said.