Child Programs Are at Risk

In the next few weeks our elected officials will make crucial decisions that will dramatically affect children’s services in Halton. These individuals will decide what services will exist and who will get them. It is important to recognize that during the last two years, services directed at helping children have suffered from severe cutbacks. Now these services are to be permanently “restructured,” our modern euphemism for reduction and elimination.

Cutbacks to these services have already affected the quality of life for families in this region. This final process will create fragmented, short-term services. These ‘improved’ services will have eligibility criteria that will prevent a significant number of children in need from receiving treatment, advocacy, respite, and placement.

The current restructuring proposal has the potential of causing either good or harm. We must remember that, once changes are made to levels of service, we rarely go back to the way things were. It is very unlikely that cuts to children’s services will ever be restored.

It is imperative that the community voices its opinion about every aspect of this service plan as it emerges. This is a time for all of us to give input into the decisions that will effect our children, whether those opinions are invited or not.

All of the existing programs and services have the ability to decrease the financial as well as the emotional costs incurred by the community at large. The alternative is to allow individual and family problems to persist without solutions.

The Halton Social Planning Council reports that in 1995 some 4,590 families in Halton were poor. (The Faces We Don’t See: Poverty In Halton, 1995). Of these, 69 per cent were single mothers between the ages of 15 and 24 with children under six years of age. This high-risk group in particular depends upon the services now in place.

Programs such as D.A.R.E., the High School Liaison Officers and the Capacity of H.O.P.E. program are interventions that support senior public and high school children in this community. They are also quite probably the first programs that will be cut if police do not secure a budget increase, which amounts – we are told – to approximately $16 per household annually.

If we are to safeguard our community we cannot depend solely on governments and politicians when the welfare of our children is at stake.

For the past two years members of Parent Watch, a parent support group, have been vocal in their concerns about further cutbacks in services. They have participated in community forums, petitions, appeals, and task forces. Their participation has been articulate, passionate and strategic.

These parents petitioned and appealed to the Halton Board of Education when cuts were made to social workers, psychologists, child and youth counsellors, and speech pathologists. They prepared the Report on Recommendations for Responding to Halton Youth Drug Use (January 1997). This report was instrumental in the creation of the Regional Committee on Substance Abuse Among Youth. Members recently participated in a committee process to respond to the restructuring of treatment services for drug dependent youth in Halton.

The umbrella proposal for restructuring children’s services is called Making Services Work for People (Ministry of Community and Social Services, 1997). This proposal neglects to address such areas as the experience of poor and multi-problem families, children with special needs, and young people.

The implications of the proposed restructuring could mean the elimination of prevention initiatives, with vulnerable children and families left to their own devices. Truly desperate children would be “wait-listed” for services located far from their own communities. Only the most severe cases would receive help, possibly only when a problem is too entrenched to respond to treatment.

A community’s health is demonstrated by the care it shows its most vulnerable members. We succeed as a society when we take responsibility for each other. If we dismantle enough of our services, we will destroy the very mechanism that brings us together.

Halton has so far been one of Canada’s safest communities. Let’s keep it that way.

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