Topeka Legislators were told Friday to expect a big jump in the number of children entering the state's foster care system.
"It will be in about six months," said Colleen Pederson, director of program development at DCCCA, a Lawrence-based program that provides family-preservation services to troubled families in 52 counties in eastern Kansas.
Earlier this month, DCCCA learned its contract with the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services was being cut from a projected $12 million to $8.4 million. In the next eight months, SRS workers are expected to refer 1,000 fewer families a single mother with three children, typically for family-preservation services.
Without these services, Pederson said, many of these families will crumble, and many children will likely end up in foster care.
As the number of children in foster care increases, SRS will be forced to spend more on their care.
DCCCA executive director Bruce Beale warned members of the Children's Issues Committee that if the children in just 20 percent of the 1,000 families land in foster care, SRS will likely have to spend an additional $17.6 million on their care.
"That's three times the amount that's being taken from family preservation," Beale said.
On Monday, DCCCA laid off 27 workers and closed its offices in Hiawatha and Leavenworth, Beale said.
Legislators aren't sure what to do.
"I don't have an answer because there isn't an easy answer," said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, the committee chairwoman.
It doesn't make sense to cut family preservation, she said, but SRS can't spend money it doesn't have.
"At this point, I am just trying to get the word out," Landwehr said. "People need to understand what's going on, and right now, I don't think a lot of them do."
Committee member Sen. Paul Feleciano, D-Wichita, said he's ready to raise taxes.
"I was absolutely shocked by what I heard today," Feleciano said. "This flies in the face of everything that SRS has told us they're committed to doing and that's keeping families together so their kids don't get put in foster care."
Joyce Allegrucci, assistant SRS secretary in charge of children and family services, assured the committee her office would closely monitor the effects of fewer families being referred to family preservation.
Allegrucci, a child advocate before joining SRS in 1999, said the three months leading up to the budget cuts "have been the worst in my life."