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Helping Kids; Saving Money

March 22, 2013 Common Cents

The governor’s budget proposal restores money to help troubled youth and it now appears House budget writers are poised to protect that funding. In addition, they are making some adjustments to strengthen the program and potentially save the state some money down the road.

troubled youthChildren in Need of Services, or CHINS, has historically provided a court-ordered process through which youth could receive treatment, care, counseling and rehabilitation to help them overcome difficulties that if untreated, could lead to being charged with violations of the law.

The last budget, FY12-13, dramatically reduced funding for the program and repealed statutory language related to it. Lawmakers currently working on the health and human services portion of the new budget  are recommending funding to serve 538 children, nearly 400 more kids than the FY 2012-13 budget.

These lawmakers also are asking the House to pass legislation (HB260 as amended) that makes it possible for eligible children to receive services BEFORE they end up in court. In many instances, going to court is an unnecessarily expensive exercise which delays getting families the help they need.  The new language about “voluntary services” makes it possible for the family to avoid going through the courts to get help for a son or daughter.  Ultimately, the court-ordered process remains an option, and will serve as a fall-back even in cases where kids initially receive services on a voluntary basis.

Creating access to voluntary services at the beginning of the process may create some savings, too.  By catching problems earlier, solutions hopefully will be lower cost – for example it doesn’t allow for residential placements that take children out of their homes and communities. Additionally, voluntary services are limited to nine months, while court-ordered services have no such limitation.  Finally, avoiding a court-ordered process may also yield savings by avoiding court, prosecution and defense costs.

The newly adopted CHINS language may be a way to keep children out of our courtrooms while providing the supports they need to be successful at home and at school.

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