State to halt funds for service centers for troubled teens Feb. 1 cutoff will close most of 21 bureaus, directors say

December 19, 1990|By Doug Birch | Doug Birch,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS — The Sun reported incorrectly yesterday that the Arthur G. Murphy Sr. Youth Services Center in Southwest Baltimore was one of 21 Youth Service Bureaus -- centers serving troubled children and their families -- around the state scheduled to lose state funding Feb. 1. A spokesman for the Department of Juvenile Services said yesterday that the center is not funded under the bureau program and is not in danger of losing funding.

ANNAPOLIS -- As part of efforts to reduce the state's budget deficit, the Department of Juvenile Services said yesterday that it would cut off funding Feb. 1 to Maryland's 21 Youth Service Bureaus, popular counseling and recreation centers for troubled adolescents.

Diane Hutchins, a spokesman for the department, said the move would save $1 million in fiscal 1991 and $2.5 million annually in coming years. She called the decision "extremely difficult and not taken lightly."

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"But given the fact that the state has a $423 million deficit," she said, "we have to try to make some cuts in the budget. And as painful as this is, this is one of the least painful ways we could do things."

Department officials, she said, hope that some of the bureaus will be able to remain open by finding other sources of money -- perhaps city or county governments. The bureaus, some of which are more than 20 years old, generally receive 75 percent of their operating funds from the state and 25 percent from counties or municipalities.

But David J. Goldman, executive director of First Step Youth Service Center, one of the four bureaus in Baltimore County, said and other directors thought that 17 of the 21 centers in the state would have to close their doors permanently after Feb. 1.

Of the four Youth Service Bureaus in Baltimore County, he said, only First Step is likely to keep operating -- and that is because First Step receives other money from the state for drug- and alcohol-abuse treatment programs and for an effort to prevent pregnancy in teen-agers. The county's other three centers, he said, are the Light House in Catonsville, the Judith P. Ritchey Center in Parkville and the Dundalk Youth Service Center in Dundalk.

Mr. Goldman said First Step would have to close its Reisterstown office and operate only from the center near Randallstown, cut the remaining center's six-day-a-week schedule to five and reduce the number of nights it was open from four to two.

The bureaus provide counseling for teen-agers who threaten suicide, a service Mr. Goldman said was offered by few other organizations. Another service is family counseling when there is a teen-ager who is truant, abusing drugs or alcohol or drifting into crime.

"Therapeutically, we're talking about leaving a lot of families in the lurch across the state," he said.

One graduate of a Youth Service Bureau is Nicole Wise, who at 15 was an alcoholic living on the streets and now, two years later, lives in a group home and is a member of a state youth panel on drugs and alcohol.

Ms. Wise, profiled in The Sun Dec. 11, received counseling at the Arthur G. Murphy Jr. Youth Service Bureau in Southwest Baltimore. Officials there and at several another city bureaus declined to talk about the funding cuts yesterday.

"It's the one program that everybody thinks is a good one," said Susan Leviton, president of Advocates for Children and Youth. "Of all the programs to consider cutting, this makes no sense whatsoever."

Patrons of the bureaus, she said, are "basically kids who are in trouble, but they're not yet at the level of violent crime."

The centers have different programs, she said, with some offering tutoring, recreation, job programs and remedial learning addition to counseling.

Ms. Leviton said it was illogical to look to local governments to replace the money being withdrawn.

"Baltimore City, that has the least tax base and the least money," has the biggest population of poor children who need help from the bureaus, she said. "They're the ones that are going to pay for these programs now? That's ridiculous."

Ms. Hutchins said the Youth Service Bureaus became a target of the cuts primarily because the juvenile services agency was not legally responsible for providing the service.

It is required to aid juvenile offenders sent by the courts to agency facilities such as the Hickey School, she said.

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