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July 30, 2014

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County Commission chairman rejecting child welfare cuts

Clark County Chairman Rory Reid said today that the county is rejecting Gov. Jim Gibbons' request to cut the budget of Clark County’s child welfare services.

“These are the most vulnerable citizens in our community and to suggest 60 percent cuts to people that watch them and ensure their safety is an outrage and should not stand,” said Rory Reid, county commission chairman. “The

state of Nevada shouldn’t tell the world that our children are expendable... This is a call to action and we hope the people of Nevada will recognize how unwise this is.”

Reid said he hoped “the governor will reconsider.”

If he doesn’t, and the county loses state funding, Reid said cuts would come in other areas.

“You watched the beginning of that yesterdayŠand that will continue,” he said, referring to the Clark County Commission’s decision to cut various programs operated by University Medical Center, including its oncology outpatient clinic.

“We had nearly 400 positions frozen that were budgeted and we didn’t fill,” he added. “Yesterday, phase two began, where we eliminate or reduce programs. That’s going to continue. We did all that in hopes of preventing phase three, which is laying off workers.”

In an e-mail from Diane Comeaux, state Department of Child and Family Services administrator, Comeaux asked the county to prepare scenarios for budget cuts of 4 percent, 7 percent or 11 percent in the current fiscal year.

These would have to happen within the next 30 to 60 days.

The e-mail also noted that state administrators expect to be asked to prepare budgets cuts of 24 percent and 34 percent for fiscal year 2010-2011.

Tom Morton, director of the Clark County Department of Family Services, painted a dire picture of child welfare programs if such cuts were made.

“Holding foster care and adoption payments stable, which we have no authority to change, 34 percent would be the elimination of virtually all of our staff who provide foster care and adoption services,” he said.

Reid said the e-mail and request felt to him as though the governor had broken his word.

Last year, Gov. Jim Gibbons said child welfare and juvenile justice programs would be saved from some $285 million in proposed budget cuts.

Since then, the state has cut even more, with budget reductions of more than $1 billion enacted during a special session of the Legislature last summer.

Earlier this year, the governor’s spokesman said there were no plans to reduce funding for children's services this year.

Asked if he had tried to call the governor, Reid replied that his experience “has been that that is not a productive activity.”

Though the county does not plan to make the cuts, it outlined how the various cutbacks would affect the county’s Department of Family Services.

Under a 4 percent budget decrease, amounting to $1.5 million, 75 full-time equivalent positions would go away and the worker caseload would increase from about 23 children per case worker to 33; a 7 percent reduction would result in a reduction of 125 FTE workers and a case worker-to-child ratio of 40 to 1; an 11 percent cut, or $4.3 million, would see 187 FTE reductions and a worker-to-child ratio of 1 to 68.

The cuts could, however, be even deeper. That’s because for every dollar spent by the county on child welfare programs, the federal government gives it 20 cents.

Reid defended the county as already budgeting very conservatively.

“Clark County has done more with less for some time,” he added. “We have about 2.5 workers per thousand residents, where other municipalities in the valley have almost twice that.”

The county’s child welfare system came under intense scrutiny in 2006 after the reported deaths of children within the system. A county report that year found the county failed to investigate 79 child deaths from 2001-2004 that might have been abuse or neglect related.

Those cases included the death of a 17-year-old boy at emergency shelter, Child Haven; the disappearance of an 18-month-old girl from her foster home; and a 2-year-old girl who died of malnutrition after the county closed her case.

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