Area children suffer from bad economic times - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Area children suffer from bad economic times

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Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 6:00 pm | Updated: 1:35 pm, Wed Oct 10, 2012.

Drastic budget cuts made in 2009 continue to affect Phoenix families in the struggle to find employment.

Funds for child subsidy programs have been considerably reduced, leaving low-income families on their own to decide how they will pay for everyday necessities for their children.

The Department of Economics and Security (DES) is responsible for supplying childcare for parents while they are engaging in employment related activities outside the home, or when they are unable to provide care themselves, according to the Department of Economic Security.

With a $13.7 million cut to the childcare budget, low-income parents depending on the subsidies will have to make changes to their daily routine such as quitting their jobs and turning to welfare, according to the Children's Action Alliance.

Kiddie Care in Phoenix is suffering a tremendous loss in childcare participants.

Manager Jennifer Smith said the families who depend on Kiddie Care to provide care for their children are struggling to find methods of payment for the services.

Smith said, "The DES cuts have had a very negative impact on our families."

Along with the decline of funds, families who were in need of childcare were forced on to a waiting list for subsidized care designed by the DES.

"Beginning in February 2009, a waiting list was established for low-income working families. Since then, 16,000 eligible children have been on the waiting list," said Karen McLaughlin, director of budget and research at the Children's Action Alliance.

The waiting list, at its height, had a total of 11,000 children in need of care, according to McLaughlin.

The families are not the only ones suffering from the cuts. Many childcare centers are being forced to close or lay off valuable employees.

Childcare provider funds were reduced 5 percent in 2009 and co-pays were increased significantly, McLaughlin noted.

The Department of Economic Security is also head of the Cash Assistance Program, which has suffered a decrease of $8.6 million with the budget cuts, according to the Children's Action Alliance.

The majority of these funds are used for what DES calls "child only" services. These are subsidies that go toward the child and not toward any other member of the family.

There were 27,191 children receiving "child only" assistance in June 2010; however, in March 2011 only a reported 13,166 children were receiving "child only" benefits.

That means there was a 14,025 reduction in benefits for children since June 2010.

The "child only" cash assistance cut greatly affects relatives who have willingly taken custody of children, denying them the subsidy support that they had depended on for raising the child.

McLaughlin said there was a 20 percent rate cut in 2009, which meant that a three-person family who was previously receiving $347 a month will now receive $277 a month after the cut.

These cash assistance programs are responsible for providing cash benefits and supportive services to children and families in order to help recover employment but only for a limited amount of time, according to the Department of Economic Security.

While families were previously allowed 36 months of receiving cash assistance, the reduction in the budget now only allows 24 months of support, according to the Children's Action Alliance.

This time limit will be reduced to 24 months in July 2011, McLaughlin said.

Without this incoming cash source, families find themselves unable to pay for rent, utilities, clothing and transportation.

Many families are demonstrating a wide range of emotional problems built up with the uncertainty for the family's future.

Emotional instability is created with the lack of unemployment, which causes a family to feel stress, sadness, anger and regret; all of which have the ability to lead to negative consequences inside the home.

According to a Department of Economic Security Child Welfare Report, the amount of abused children increased from 16,612 in October 2006 through March 2007 to 17,068 in April 2010 through September 2010.

The cuts also have the ability to prevent families from being able to participate in health care procedures required for young children, according to Ahwatukee Foothills nurse Laura Robertson.

"When families neglect the preventive health care necessary for their children, it can result in developmental stage related illnesses in the child," Robertson said.

At a time when imperative decisions need to be made, not all parents faced with these responsibilities will know how to make them. This is where social service programs step in and try to teach possible solutions to families in debt.

The Association for Supportive Child Care is an organization that is dedicated to helping families with the safety and well being of their children.

The program helps childcare providers with technical support, families in need of childcare and employers who are assisting their employees with childcare needs.

"We talk to each family about the different types of childcare that is available to them, and also advise them to talk to the provider about finances," said Becky Hancock, the program's resource and referral program coordinator.

Even though there are many support services in the Phoenix area willing to help with the issues in financing childcare, families are beginning to neglect the help that is being offered without charge.

"Child care resource and referral in the past received over 2,000 calls a month requesting information on child care. The call volume now is between 300 and 400 calls a month," Hancock said.

Alternative child care options have become more popular, such as leaving children at home with other children, neighbors or friends.

"Parents are reporting that they are finding childcare on Craigslist - which offers no regulatory services to ensure that the providers' background checks have been completed and the environments are safe for children," Hancock said.

With the decline in financial aid and the lack of families utilizing support services, residents are having trouble finding employment that will satisfy their needs, thus affecting amount of unemployed families in Phoenix.

• Macy Fuquay is a student at The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University.

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