Over the past several days, we have all been made aware of the dire state of the Missouri revenue stream; we acknowledge that difficult decisions had to be made as more than $448 million was cut from the state budget.
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Southwest Missouri was saddened to learn about the recent cuts to the Department of Social Services (DSS) budget. CASA program staff and volunteers work closely with DSS, namely Children’s Division (CD), to advocate for abused and neglected children in the foster care system, and have recently learned that around 200 of the 300 state positions that will be lost to the cuts will come from DSS — 67 percent from one state department. We are also deeply concerned about the millions of dollars cut that would have gone directly to the service of children and families.
CD serves around 20,000 children in foster care yearly, according to their annual reports, and has recently carried an average daily caseload of nearly 13,000 children, according to Fostering Court Improvement.
CASA of Southwest Missouri specifically serves two counties in Missouri: Greene and Christian counties. Data reflects that in the past six months, both circuits have experienced a significant increase of children entering the foster care system. Since December 2019, Greene County has experienced a 9 percent increase, while Christian County has experienced an 18 percent increase of children entering foster care.
By the end of June 2020, Greene County’s foster care numbers surged to 785 children and Christian County recorded 172. This increase is astonishing and reflect some of the highest numbers of abuse and neglect our community has seen. Additionally, these numbers do not even include the parents, grandparents, foster parents, and partners that CD staff work with every day to ensure the safety of children and youth, and to help this vulnerable population achieve permanency.
We are also worried about the adverse effects of COVID-19 on hotline calls over the past several months, and the inevitable increase in children who will come into care as a result of months of confinement with their caregivers with nobody to report abuse or neglect (e.g. teachers, counselors, doctors, pastors, etc.). Ultimately, service to this vulnerable population is at stake. The serious impact of COVID-19 on children being abused and neglected is still yet to be seen. The number of children in southwest Missouri needing protection from abuse and neglect has not slowed in recent months.
The cuts to DSS and CD will undoubtedly trickle down and affect communication between child welfare parties and, most importantly, impact permanency outcomes for children and youth in foster care. As an organization that advocates for abused and neglected children, it is our duty now to seek clarity amid these cuts and to understand why children are the first to suffer losses during this budget crisis.
Children, especially those who have experienced the trauma of abuse, should not have to bear the burden of serious budget cuts. We understand that the budget is complex and cuts have to be made, but are deeply concerned with how these cuts will affect children in foster care and child safety, stability and permanency throughout the state. We also understand that further tough budget decisions may lie ahead, and hope that any future cuts will not impact Missouri’s children and families.