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Kids in Danger, Funds in Danger

March 21, 2011

ALBANY, N.Y. - Home visitation programs that help prevent child abuse and neglect could run out of money unless Gov. Cuomo and the legislature work out differences in their respective plans for funding, according to advocates of programs like Healthy Families New York. The governor proposed lumping together nine or more child welfare and juvenile justice programs.

Chris Deyss of Prevent Child Abuse New York says that would effectively eliminate home visitation. She points out that in their separate budget proposals the Senate and the Assembly put back the funds.

"What we're hoping is that they and we can help the governor understand what a much better idea it is to continue these prenatal and early childhood home visiting programs."

Cuomo has pledged to eliminate a deficit of over $10 million. Insiders say his aides and the legislature are working behind the scenes toward a resolution.

Law enforcement officials say home visitation helps break a generational cycle of crime, in which they often arrest young people whose parents they know from 20 years earlier because they - the parents - were abusive.

Meredith Wiley of Fight Crime Invest in Kids says home visitation also makes an impact in the short term.

"For instance, the Healthy Families program has data showing that they significantly lower the number of low birth-weight babies, which are very expensive babies, even at birth. Often, a low birth-weight baby will cost $100,000, $150,000 or even $200,000."

Deyss says home visitation is proven to work and ultimately saves taxpayers money.

"First of all, it's a cost-effective program. It doesn't cost that much per family served, compared to many, many public services. And, in the short term and the longer term, throughout the child's growing up, it saves money."

Wiley recognizes the difficult spot the legislature and the governor are in, however.

"It is a very tough budget year. But these populations - these really, really fragile families - are the last place we should be cutting, not the first."

There is also concern that Cuomo's plan will make the state ineligible to go after some of the $1.4 billion in federal funds available to states that maintain home visitation programs.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY