March 28, 2005

Illinois budget slashes funds for programs for at-risk students

Despite rising concerns over the level and brutality of teen crime, Gov. Blagojevitch's proposed budget contains drastic cuts in programs designed to help families in need and at-risk kids that experts say are key to preventing crime down the road.
-- About $762,000 from Healthy Families Illinois' current $9.7 million budget, which tries to prevent child abuse through home visits and other services for nearly 4,000 families.

-- About $1.8 million from Parents Too Soon's $10 million budget, which helps teen parents.

-- All of Crisis Nurseries' $473,000, which serves about 2,600 families and lets parents drop off their children when the family is involved in a crisis. The state has promised to restore this funding.

-- $2.6 million from Teen REACH's $20.4 million budget, which provides after-school programs for about 31,000 students a year.

Teen REACH will deal with the loss partly by reducing the number of children served, covering only those ages 11-17 next year rather than extending programs to children as young as 6 as it has in the past, said Grace Hou, assistant secretary of the state Department of Human Services. Other cuts will come from staff training and evaluation, she said.

Experts say even temporary cuts in after-school programs can have a long-term negative impact.

"You have to look at it like you either pay me now, or pay me later. By investing in these programs, it's cost-effective and you realize enormous savings in the criminal justice system down the road," said Daniel J. Cardinali, president at Community In Schools, an Alexandria, Va.-based non-profit organization focused on keeping kids in school.

The majority of crimes involving youth occur between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., according to a U.S. Justice Department study; other government surveys have found quality after-school programs help reduce juvenile crime.

Blagojevich also talked about early intervention as the best way to fight crime during his state budget address when he discussed new programs aimed at reducing the number of ex-convicts who return to prison.

"He's making a big contradiction," said Beth Bricker, 27, an after-school program coordinator at the Albany Park Community Center in Chicago, where Troi and her friends were painting. ``The best way to fight crime is to get kids off the streets, and the after-school programs provide them with a safe environment."

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