On December 31 of this year, Youth Emergency Services will shut its doors to the children of Marion County it has serviced for 11 years. YES coordinates care for children at risk of being removed from their home due to suspected abuse or neglect. It also serves as a location where children who have run away from home come for food, clean clothes and evaluation, among other things.
When The Department of Child Services chose to end the Youth Emergency Services program earlier this year, many were aggrieved over the loss for the community. YES seeks to divert families at risk from involvement with juvenile justice or child welfare (system involvement) on the front end before the situation becomes critical.
John Kennedy, program director at YES, says that 38,000 families in the area are at risk for system involvement, and that the loss of YES will be a major blow to the Marion County community. Program Supervisor Lisa Goldberg-Mitton adds that the loss of YES will equate to a higher workload for DCS. In spite of this, YES, its 40 employees and 1.5 million dollar operating budget will be cut at the end of the year.
Ironically, YES is being nixed by the man who helped create it in 1998, Department of Child Services Director James Payne. Juvenile Court Judge Marilyn Moores has been publicly critical of Payne's decision to axe YES. But Kennedy has a different opinion, "Director Payne is a convenient target but he is not the real reason, it's more of an issue of taxpayers not knowing where their money is going."
Kennedy is referring to the sweeping budget reform that Governor Daniels signed in 2008 to protect taxpayers from current and future increases in property taxes, HEA 1001. HEA 1001 puts certain limits on local government spending.
When asked about YES and HEA 1001, director Payne denied that the issue of YES' termination stemmed from the bipartisan supported property tax relief of HEA 1001. "This is something we've been talking about for three years," said Payne.
According to Payne, YES was created in a much different climate and much has changed since the idea for the program began 15 years ago. Payne said the system has been improved and characterizes YES as outmoded: "Are you wearing the same shoes you were 15 years ago?"
YES was created when caseloads for DCS workers were exorbitantly high. Payne said that the hiring of more caseworkers ensures that caring for Marion County's children will be done properly.
Goldberg-Mitton and Kennedy at YES feel that the state is attempting to get rid of duplicative services, but that their program does not fall into that category. They feel that they occupy an important niche that is necessary in providing service to the most urban and populous county in the state. Simply put, they feel there is more demand for their services in Marion County, and that when policy is stratified for each county statewide, idiosyncrasy cannot be taken into account.
In response to the claim that Marion County is singular in its needs, Payne points out that other counties are also densely populated and deal with many of the same issues as Marion.
To demonstrate the continued need for service Kennedy points to a survey of youth serving agencies in Marion County done in 2008 by the Indiana University Center for Health Policy. The survey finds that nearly 90% of non profit, for profit and government agencies report that there are gaps in service available to youth in Marion County, meaning that centers like YES are still necessary.
With the hiring of 185 more caseworkers in Marion County since 2005, DCS seeks to provide more comprehensive, 24 hour care and minimize the number of times a child in a crisis situation is moved.