The state's youth service bureaus -- independent agencies that offer counseling to truants and thousands of other troubled youths -- will lose all state funding within six weeks and will not be funded next year.
The $3.5 million in cuts will force most of the bureaus to close almost immediately and will leave so-called "fence kids" -- juveniles who are only beginning to get into trouble -- without preventive services.
"This means we've got no place to send the fence kids," says Carol Dugan, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth Inc. "It's all we have. We think they should be beefing them up. Instead, they're defunding them and wiping them off the map."
While the 22 bureaus were bracing for cuts next year, the immediate loss of $1 million in funds as of Feb. 1 was an unexpected jolt, says Audrey Moore, executive director the Northwest Youth Service office in Baltimore and the president of the Maryland Association of Youth Service Bureaus.
Moore predicts that at least 13 bureaus will be forced to close because of the cuts, including the four in the city and three of the four in Baltimore County. Of the approximately 150 full- and part-time staffers statewide, many are expected to lose their jobs.
"It's a devastating blow, to say the least," Moore said yesterday. "Most people here are still quite numb."
Diane Hutchins, a Department of Juvenile Services spokeswoman, said Juvenile Services Secretary Linda D'Amario Rossi was forced to make the cuts because she is proposing a "status quo" budget for fiscal year 1992. But, because the 1991 budget is running a deficit of approximately $6 million, cuts have to be made.
"It was an extremely difficult decision to make, but the secretary had to make a recommendation, make a decision based on what would be the least painful," Hutchins said.
In use for almost 20 years, youth service bureaus are staffed by social workers who counsel juveniles on the edge of trouble. The youths are referred through their schools or parents. Some come to the centers on their own.
Their problems include anything from truancy to talk of suicide. Counselors ask the clients to draw up a list of achievable goals -- such as coming home at 10 p.m. instead of midnight -- and check in with the youths once a week.
The Department of Juvenile Services has referred some first-time criminal offenders to the program, as has Advocates for Children and Youth.
At the Northwest Youth Service office, clients range in age from 6 to 18. This particular branch sees 70 to 75 youths a week; statewide, the offices served more than 31,000 youths, siblings and parents last year.
State money is supposed to make up 75 percent of all the funding, but in some communities the local governments end up matching close to 50 percent. However, in Baltimore, the city can afford only in-kind contributions of 25 percent, Moore said.
"They told me this morning they're still committed to the program, but I don't know how that would be enough," she said.