For the past ten years I have worked as a parenting educator in a child abuse and neglect prevention program contracted with the State of Florida. During the budget session that was just completed our program was included in the FL House budget at the same level of funding for the past fiscal year. The program was totally eliminated from the FL Senate budget. The committee compromise was to cut the statewide budget for our program by 48%. This meant massive cuts to our program statewide.
In 2008, 201 Florida children died from abuse and neglect. 98% of children served by our program were free from abuse and neglect during that same year. 70% of participants who were unemployed at entry into the program were employed upon leaving the program. 99% of participants and children had a regular medical home and 97% had had no subsequent pregnancy in two years since the birth of their target child. It costs the State over $60,000 to care for an abused or neglected child. Our services cost a little over $1600 per child.
Our lead entity held the contract for two county programs, one large and one small. Our funding was cut over 20%. It did not make sense to gut both programs. Hence the smaller program, the one I work for, will be shut down effective June 30.
What does this mean for families in need in my county???? In the last ten years we have served 255 families in Walton County, Florida. Our program has provided support, education, and encouragement in all aspects of their family lives. We have supported families during difficult pregnancies, births, and watched over them as children have grown to kindergarten age. We have mourned miscarriages and stillbirths and provided support for families learning for the first time that their child would have special needs.We have visited the jail and given encouragement in the NICU. We have arranged developmental therapy for physically and mentally challenged children. We have encouraged parents to read to, talk to, and interact with their children to increase their vocabularies and social development. We have cheered on while parent have earned GEDs, college degrees and certifications and gone on to begin jobs that earn their families a living wage and get themselves out of the system. We have seen them be able to purchase homes, good cars, and send older children to college. We have seen parents come out of drug abuse and poverty to become loving parents and contributing members of the community. We have supported battered women and given them the encouragement they needed to remove themselves and their children from their situation. We have taught parenting skills and basic life skills. Our families learned appropriate developmental expectations and discipline. For some families we have been the only voice saying "You are doing a good job. Don't give up. You are a good parent."
Now, as of June 30 all that is gone. I have no idea where these families will go. There are very limited referral options in our county. These families are are not looking for a handout. They want to be good parents. They want to be successful. They just don't know how. They just need guidance and encouragement.
I understand the need for budget cuts in this economy. But being pennywise and pound foolish is gambling with the future of Florida's children. Massive cuts to a proven program was not the answer. Three other sites across the states will be closed. All others will suffer drastic cuts.
As for me, I am using this as an opportunity. I have wanted to go to nursing school for awhile and that's what I plan to do. Unemployment programs make that a reality for me and I am going to take full advantage.I am happy with my personal decision. I'm afraid the State of Florida will regret theirs.