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Juvenile Justice Advocates Fear Millions Cut by Sequestration

Unless the U.S. Congress agrees on a different budget by the end of this year, stopping a so-called “sequestration” budget, federal spending on juvenile justice programs will fall by around 8 percent.

A total $21 million would be sliced out of Juvenile Justice Programs under the federal Department of Justice alone, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget’s report on sequestration. Other spending that has some effect on juvenile welfare, such as state grants from the federal Administration for Children and Families, are also in line for cuts of around 8 percent.

“We are kind of bracing ourselves,” said Kimberly Williams, juvenile justice specialist at the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission.

“Last year we had only about $1.5 million in juvenile justice funding to allocate across the whole state. And we received about $10 million in requests,” she explained, adding that they are anticipating another 7 percent cut under sequestration.

In North Carolina, those funds cover things like programs for gang-involved youth, mentoring, after-school programs and monitoring and compliance. “We have to turn away a lot of good programs,” said Williams. If the cuts come, they will likely have to turn away more.

It will be the same in other states. All have some flexibility on how they spend federal juvenile justice dollars. But their priorities and grants may change from year to year, making it difficult to know what exactly post-sequestration state spending would look like.

The sequestration level of cuts may threaten the states’ ability to comply with the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act, charged Benjamin Chambers at the National Juvenile Justice Network.

That Act generally requires that court-involved youth be detained separately from adults, that states address disproportionate minority contact and that juveniles who commit status offenses like curfew violations stay out of jail.

Chambers called the Act “fundamental” to good policy for youth in the justice system. The more a state’s policy mirrors federal requirements, the more juvenile justice grant money flows down to the state. Indeed, North Carolina is recovering from compliance issues that had already shrunk its federal funds.

But “even at current levels, there's been concern about states dropping compliance with the Act because they don't get enough funding to make it feasible; more cuts will probably tip that balance,” said Chambers. After years of cuts already, “we're already pretty close to that point,” of states abandoning JJDPA, he argued.

Federal Funds Available to Help Foster Kids

The federal government is now pushing states to take part in two foster care programs that support guardianship placements and the extension of foster care up to age 21.

The two programs are part of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, which was passed in 2009 and allows for federal IV-E funds to be more freely used, according to Youth Today.

According to the Act, teens will be eligible for these funds if they continue their education or get a job among other things.

As JJIE.org reported last month, more than 700 fostered teens in Georgia turn 18 this year and face an uncertain future, and a quarter of young people who age out become homeless within two years. But Georgia has apparently not applied for the money that might help them.

Twenty-three states have submitted IV-E guardianship placement plans and 11 have gotten final approval from the Administration for Children and Families, which oversees IV-E funds.

To date, Texas is the only state with a plan in place to increase the foster care age limit to 21.

Michelle Barclay: Reflecting on Being Thankful

I sat in the Fulton County Juvenile Court audience on Saturday, November 20th , with my son and my husband, watching the joyful and moving ceremony of 23 families who were celebrating their adoptions on National Adoption Day . Afterward, I thought about my earlier conversation this past week remembering Fulton’s Terrell Peterson who suffered and died at the age of 5 when he should have been protected by our child welfare system and adopted by a loving family. These two events might seem like they are far apart but they are linked in my mind because November is also the 10 year anniversary of Terrell’s picture on the cover of Time Magazine with the title of “The Shame of Foster Care."

Terrell’s tragic case deeply affected many people. For my family, Terrell was the catalyst of working with Emory University School of Law to create the Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic , for others it was the call to become foster parents , CASAs or mentors. Terrell sparked the Kenny A class action lawsuit and it was the background for Georgia’s first Child and Family Services Review.

Much has changed for the better in the past 10 years in our state’s child welfare system. Last week, Governor Perdue received a letter from the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF)  which praised our state for its improvement efforts on safety, permanency and well-being work. This letter is much different than the letter sent by ACF in 2006 fining our state $4.2 million for our failure to even work on promised improvements. Today, the child welfare caseloads are lower, safety measures show improvement, children move through the system more quickly and are less likely to come back into care, and fewer children are aging out of care without finding permanency. We didn’t know any of these measures 10 years ago. For the most part, our measuring started in 2000.

On December 2, 2010, Georgia DFCS will be released by ACF from the “Program Improvement Plan " having substantially complied with the plan and being able to prove it. This release also means that the state will not have to pay a pending 8.6 million dollar fine. This release from both the plan and the fine will receive little fanfare.  In a way that is appropriate, because, while we are moving in the right direction, there is still so much to be done to improve the system charged to protect children in fragile families.

However, I am thankful for where we are today.

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Michelle Barclay is director of the Supreme Court of Georgia’s Committee on Justice for Children at the Administrative Office of the Courts.  Michelle and Andy Barclay founded and endowed the Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic in partnership with the Emory University School of Law.