ST. GEORGE – As the Washington County Youth Crisis Center, a Division of Juvenile Justice Services program providing support to troubled youth and their families, struggles with funding deficits, officials and legislators continue to explore other avenues in hopes of finding a sound solution.
Though the WCYCC is not facing closure yet, its hours and services will be drastically reduced in the coming fiscal year unless more funding is acquired. It is now only able to continue operating full-time due to a $20,000 emergency contribution from the Washington County Commission in September 2012.
Elizabeth Sollis, Public Information Officer for the Utah Department of Human Services, said $87,000 in total was contributed to keep the center open. Besides the Washington County Commission, that sum includes contributions from: City of St. George - $30,000; Washington City – $5,000; Santa Clara City – $1,000; Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health – $22,500; and Utah Division of Child and Family Services – $8,500.
The WCYCC is not the only JJS service to suffer a deficit of dollars this fiscal year. Early Intervention Programs at youth centers across the state lost $1.75 million, while capacity at most shelters was reduced by 50 percent. Many short-term residential treatment programs and jobs have been cut. The Davis County Youth Services/Receiving Center closed and the Weber Valley Detention Center is slated to close in March 2013. The entire agency has a shortfall of nearly $3 million.
In the wake of the 2008 global economic recession, every Utah agency has been impacted by reduced federal funding. However, the legislature has increased state funding for several top priority departments in an attempt to counteract these deficits. JJS is one of them.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, Chair of the Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations, said, “This situation isn’t due to a lack of commitment by the state. The situation is that JJS built a significant portion of their budget around federal dollars, (which is) a recipe for disaster because you can’t count on federal money to continue. They were told to prepare and they didn’t.”
“The state used to have the mindset that maximizing the use of federal dollars was a good thing because it allowed the state to use state dollars elsewhere, but as federal dollars dried up, the mindset has changed and we are now criticized for relying on federal dollars to pay for the treatment and rehabilitation of (juvenile) offenders,” JJS Director Susan Burke said. “The Division has done its due diligence to re-engineer and make cuts to offset the loss of these federal dollars. However, we are facing the continued loss of critical programs.”
Burke said that she will continue to evaluate other funding options in order to allow the WCYCC to continue operating full-time, including grants and community partnerships.
Sen. Thatcher had some suggestions of his own.
“I have proposed solutions, (including) having the county take it over or to combine it with a similar (program) such as a juvenile justice center,” he said. “We’re not out of options by any means. The best thing we can do is innovate.”
In an effort to inform the community of the importance of the WCYCC, an open house will be held there Tuesday from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Local legislators who assisted in keeping the center open will be recognized for their commitment, and families who have benefited from the center’s services will also be on hand to share their insight. All members of the public are invited.
Apart from all the focus on dollars and spending cuts, Burke stressed that it is important to remember who will be hit the hardest if the WCYCC cannot continue operations: The youth who count on them during times of crisis.
“We need to have safety nets in place to help our most vulnerable children when their lives are at risk,” she said. “Intervening with youths early puts them on the right pathway to adulthood. If we don’t, we will feel the social and economic impact of an increasing number of delinquent youths who may go on to the adult criminal justice system.”
As mediations and budget evaluations continue, the WCYCC still faces an uncertain future. Only time will tell if the combined efforts of JJS and the legislature will produce the funds needed to maintain it as a safeguard in the community.
UPDATED 4:11 p.m. Itemization of additional contributors received and added to the story.
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