San Mateo County budget proposal strips kid-services funding

Programs for children who have mental illnesses, developmental disabilities or abusive families are some of the hardest hit among more than $50 million in proposed budget cuts.

The deep cuts to children’s services were unveiled as part of initial plans to close an $82 million budget deficit for the fiscal year beginning July 1.  

County Manager David Boesch asked departments to reduce spending by 10 to 24 percent, depending on the size of their budget and how much general-fund money they use, as he prepares to formally reveal his recommended budget in May. The county would also use about $30 million in reserves to bridge the gap in its $1.7 billion budget if supervisors approve the plans this summer.

For the health system, the county’s largest department with a $320 million budget, that meant $15 million in proposed cuts, many of which target children’s programs.

“We would never put cuts to children’s services up first,” county Health Services chief Jean Fraser said. But Fraser said the department, which cut $28 million last year, has already reduced adult programs and is trimming more this year. “Bluntly, I’ve got to cut everywhere.”

Options include eliminating 10 mental health clinicians for 700 at-risk or emotionally disturbed children to save $1.4 million, and cutting case managers and therapists who serve 925 disabled and at-risk children to save $1.3 million.

Fraser emphasized that general medical care for children will not be curtailed, but kids who need more specialized services might face waiting lists if the cuts go through.

Several children’s facilities run by other departments also face closure. The county’s Probation Department is proposing closing the Margaret J. Kemp Camp, a juvenile justice facility with group counseling and art programs for girls, and moving them to Juvenile Hall to save $2.1 million.

Programs at local schools could be hit as well, as the county’s Human Services Agency proposes cutting the psychiatric social workers at family resource centers located at eight high-need schools in Daly City, Redwood City and East Menlo Park to save $1.6 million.

Those staffers handle a range of problems, including helping a mother talk to her kids about her terminal cancer and counseling children who found out their brother died, program manager Linda Holman said.

“The reason they reach out to our staff is because they’re in the community, right there,” Holman said. “They know their community.”

Adults also aren’t immune to the cuts, which target victim’s programs in the District Attorney’s Office, a Sheriff’s Office program that sends mental health professionals to certain incidents and changes that would lead to waiting lists for substance-abuse treatment.

“It’s ugly,” said Steve Kaplan, the director of alcohol and other drug services.


Slicing and dicing

Other cuts and savings in the county’s initial budget proposal:

  • $1.9 million: Closing a 3-year-old, 12-bed receiving home for neglected or abused children ages 12 to 18
  • $1.5 million: Victim programs run by the District Attorney’s Office
  • $1.4 million: Sheriff’s Office relief staffing unit
  • $205,000: Closing Flood Park in Menlo Park
  • $306,000: Eliminating sheriff’s captain position
  • $452,000: Alcohol and drug treatment for 140 nonviolent offenders
  • $383,000: Six locked psychiatric beds in San Mateo Medical Center

Source: San Mateo County

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