Foster care services remain in county hands | January 9, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - January 9, 2009

Foster care services remain in county hands

Contra Costa cuts staff but keeps well regarded program

by Geoff Gillette

Recent budget cuts in Contra Costa County have resulted in more than 200 positions being eliminated. In many cases, the loss was felt most strongly in the areas of Adult Protective Services and Child Protective Services.

But while many of the county's programs face drastic reductions, there was some small good news amid the bad. Instead of relinquishing control of the county's adoptions and foster home licensing programs back to the state, officials opted to keep the program, which provides services to several thousand children in Contra Costa County.

Joe Valentine, director of County Employment and Human Services, said keeping those programs in-county is a big accomplishment, as they are not state mandated.

"We could have let those go back to the state. But after hearing testimony and not wanting to send the program back to the state's control we came up with an alternate proposal that left us at about 50 percent," Valentine said.

In order to maintain those programs, other areas had to be trimmed down. With the most recent round of cuts, foster home licensing will have three staff members and adoptions will have seven.

"It's not ideal," Valentine said, "but we think we can still provide good services. It will be quite a stretch. Am I worried? Yes, but our staff works hard and we will have to focus on the basics."

Valentine said this means the extra services they had been providing will have to go by the wayside.

"We'll have to cut back on some of the tutoring services we provide for children in foster care to help them in school," he said. "Our workers will just have less time to spend with a foster child or parent than they did before."

Currently, there are 1,700 children in the county's foster care system. There are more than 400 homes that the county licenses, in addition to other programs and group homes that provide services.

For Valentine, the frightening thing is that the cuts they have just endured will not be the last.

"The county administrator has already advised the Board of Supervisors that the continued decline in property values is leading to a further decline in tax revenues and each department is going to have to include some cuts," he explained.

In addition, as the state struggles with its own budget woes, mandated programs in the county will see their funding from the state continue to dwindle. Valentine said he understands how these decisions can be made at the state level but feels legislators may be out of touch with just what it is they are cutting.

"I wish the people in Sacramento could come and spend a day in our offices. These are people who have been working and paying mortgages and now they're lined up outside our offices. We're not just giving away money." He added, "Food stamps go right back into the local economy. I hope they'd understand that not only do we need to support those families in need of help, but that it helps the community as well."