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Spending on Youth Services Pared, New Survey Indicates

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WASHINGTON--Despite steady increases in the numbers of children suffering from abuse, neglect, and poverty, many states are cutting spending on services for those children, a new survey indicates.

The survey, released by the Child Welfare League of America at a news conference here last month, found that the number of reports of child abuse and neglect--which exceeds 2.5 million annually--rose by 150,000 in 1991.

Of the survey respondents, representing 44 states and the District of Columbia, 29 said reports of child abuse and neglect had risen, by an average of 9 percent. Thirteen of those cited increases from 10 percent to 26 percent, while 10 other states reported no change in the number of reports and 4 reported small declines.

Child Poverty Rising

At the same time, more than 20,000 additional children entered the foster-care system, bringing the total number of foster children to about 430,000. While 6 states reported decreases in the number of children in foster care, 30 reported increases, which in 11 states ranged from 10 percent to 23 percent.

The C.w.L.A. also found a sharp rise in the number of children in poverty, a condition that the report points out is "highly correlated" with child abuse and neglect.

States reported an overall increase of almost 1 million caseloads in Aid to Families with Dependent Children, bringing the total number of A.F.D.C. children to more than 8 million. Forty-one of the respondents reported increases in A.F.D.c. cases, while only two--Louisiana and Wisconsin reported small decreases. While caseloads have risen, the C.W.L.A. report notes, A.F.D.C. grants have declined nearly 40 percent in real dollars in the last 15 years. Although 11 of the states surveyed said they had increased A.F.D.c. grants, by an average of 5 percent, in the last legislative session, 5 said they cut benefits and 25 held them level. The result, the report warns, will be "further erosions in household income because of inflation."

Among the 30 states in which benefits were cut or remained static, 25 experienced increases in either child-abuse and -neglect reports or foster-care caseloads.

"Despite worsening trends in child abuse and neglect," the report indicates, "many states will either reduce child-welfare services or be unable to increase [them] adequately" in the current fiscal year.

'Worsened Conditions' Seen

Fifteen of those polled--California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia--said they had cut aid for children's services last year. Several also indicated that they expected further cuts in the current fiscal year.

By chipping away at child-abuse-prevention programs, emergency shelters, adoption subsidies, income support, and rates paid to providers of residential care and related services, the cuts "are threatening to worsen conditions for the most vulnerable children," said David S. Liederman, the executive director of the child welfare league.

States' inability to keep pace with the demand for services, Mr. Liederman said, has driven up caseloads to levels well above the 17 per worker recommended by the C.W.L.A. and has spurred numerous legal challenges to state child-welfare systems.

While the current recession is a factor, Mr. Liederman said, the erosion in children's services is also a result of "deep cuts in real federal spending in the 80's for a wide variety of children and family services," ranging from job training to maternal and child health. (See Education Week, Nov. 13, 1991 .)

One corrective step the federal government could take, he suggested, would be to enact a comprehensive child-welfare-reform measure pending in the Congress, which would provide billions of new dollars to combat child abuse, with a focus on prevention and early intervention.

Mr. Liederman also urged President Bush to offer a "comprehensive plan for children and families in the U.S."

Single copies of the report, "The Impact of State Fiscal Conditions on Services to Abused and Neglected Children and Families," are available for free from Mary Layton, Child Welfare League of America, Suite 310,440 First St., N.W. Washing/con, D.C. 20001.

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