Kathryn Icenhower discusses impact budget cuts have on child welfare
Published on First 5 LA (http://www.first5la.org)

CBOs Working to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect Impacted by Budget Cuts

Community-based organizations working to prevent child abuse and neglect get hit hard in times of financial strain, according to Dr. Kathryn Icenhower, chief executive officer of SHIELDS for Families.

“Whenever there is a budget deficit, prevention goes out the window – that’s the first thing that gets cut,” Icenhower said at the Sept. 28 First 5 LA Panel Discussion on Child Abuse Prevention. “It has impacted everything that we do.”

Icenhower said the role of community-based organizations, or CBOs, is to be knowledgeable about its community’s families, strengths, challenges, resources – among other things; to be flexible in integrating services, leveraging resources and responding rapidly and to be an advocate for policy and legislative change, especially concerning the child welfare system.

The budget deficit creates multiple challenges for CBOs, especially those dependent on one funding source, she said. Smaller agencies can’t survive cuts that eliminate operational costs and do not have the resources to respond to audits, evaluations, outcome data and such, she added. Larger agencies end up spending less money on resources and more to justify expenditures and programming decisions. Icenhower criticized accountability requirements, which may be essential, but can overburden agencies with requisites – especially unfunded ones or those that force the use of evidence-based practices that may not reflect the needs of the community.

She recommends some changes for funders and government sources of money:

  • Talk to each other. Stop working in “silos” and find out what others are doing to maximize resources.
  • Creative funding. Develop ways to blend, match and integrate funding streams to decrease administrative costs and oversight and maximize resources.
  • Sustain services. Instead of re-issuing requests for proposals, which carry a high cost and disrupt services, monitor the services already in place. Provide technical assistance or eliminate CBOs not performing well.
  • Support accountability. Pay for evaluations and training if you require it and re-evaluate unrealistic expectations.
  • Listen to the community. Develop services systems to match the needs expressed by community leaders, families and CBOs.
  • Work with the community. Provide technical assistance and support to agencies instead of letting them fail, and encourage agencies to work together.
  • Advocate for finance reform in child welfare. Let lawmakers know that a funding system based on removing children from their homes is not effective or appropriate.

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