Illinois’ elected officials are failing in their basic and, arguably, most important responsibility: passing a balanced state budget. Its failure to do so is causing increasing harm to its most vulnerable citizens—children.
On March 15, Youth Service Project (YSP), a youth serving organization located in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood for the past 40 years, suspended one of its most critical programs for youth in need because of the budget crisis: Comprehensive Community-Based Youth Services (CCBYS). CCBYS, which is a 24/7 crisis intervention program for youth, ages 11-17, allows community organizations, like YSP, to provide critical supports and services to young people who are at immediate physical danger and are at risk of becoming involved with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
I previously worked at this organization, and undoubtedly, the staff who engage these young people with this service make a difference and do so under challenging circumstances. Many of the youth are without a safe and stable place to live, lack parental involvement, and struggle to complete the basic tasks necessary to survive. These youth are in vulnerable positions that make them at increased risk for physical and sexual abuse, physical illness, becoming gang-involved, and being trafficked or exploited. Of the over 7,000 youth who benefitted from this program statewide in 2015, 43 percent were identified as being in immediate or substantial danger, while the remaining 57 percent were at risk of being in crisis or becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.
Although a delayed budget in Illinois is not a rare event, this year is exceptional because the state has gone nine months without a balanced budget. As a result, the state, in many cases, is either delaying its contracted payments to private social service providers or it is paying them at a significantly reduced rate. This creates instability throughout the social service sector and is forcing organizations to make painful decisions about the services they provide. While Governor Rauner and the General Assembly play chicken with the lives of its citizens, organizations are eliminating staff and curtailing, suspending, or terminating services (see Lutheran Social Services of Illinois). In the worst of cases, organizations are closing all together leaving their consumers with increasingly limited options.
State funding for CCBYS services allowed YSP to offer a continuum of services that protected at risk youth from harm. They were able to work with youth and, if possible, their parent(s) or guardian to secure a safe placement and provide mental health, case management, and other supportive services. The impact of the program was impressive. Outcomes from 2015 suggest this program is achieving its goals of stabilizing families, while diverting or minimizing involvement with the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Notably, of the 5,000 youth discharged from the program, only 1 percent were in an Illinois, county, or juvenile state secured facility and 2.5 percent were in the care of the Department of Children and Family.
Illinois’ budget fiasco not only hurts the most vulnerable of youth, but it also damages the state’s long-term bottom line. Many children will receive alternative care and services from the Illinois child welfare and juvenile justice systems, which are much more expensive and are associated with increased risks to their adulthood success, including incarceration, poverty, homelessness, and unemployment. The average cost to serve a youth through CCBYS is $1,862 annually, compared to $111,000 for youth housed at an Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice detention center or $100,000 for a child placed in residential care through the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
In its recent report, Voices for Illinois’ Children, an Illinois policy and advocacy organization, highlights the impact of the state budget fiasco on the services provided to children and families. Illinois’ elected officials are failing in their obligation to protect children from harm and advance their well-being. Saving needed services, like CCBYS, requires that Illinois citizens voice their concerns to their elected officials and demand that the state pass the budget that raises the necessary revenue to fund this and other needed services. If you are interested in becoming involved in advocating for a budget with revenue that supports human services, you can do the following:
- Contact your state representative and ask them to fund social services
- Call or write a letter to Governor Rauner
Organizations advocating for a fully-funded balanced budget: