Hundreds of troubled youths could end up back on the streets if state aid for counseling and recreation programs is cut, the directors of Anne Arundel's two Youth Service Bureaus warned yesterday.
Both centers would be forced to close after more than 20 years if a new plan by the state Department of Juvenile Services is implemented. To help reduce the burgeoning $400 million state deficit, the agency announced Tuesday that it would stop supporting Maryland's 21 Youth Service Bureaus starting Feb. 1.
Since the teen counseling and recreation centers usually rely on state aid for 75 percent of their operating budgets, nearly all expect to close when the money runs out.
"It came like a bolt out of the blue," said Adel O'Rourke, director of the Harundale Youth & Family Service Center Inc., one of the oldest youth bureaus in the state. "Unless we can reverse this in some way, we will have to close."
Determined to fight the cut, the directors of all 21 bureaus intend to meet today in Randallstown, Baltimore County, to map out a countercampaign, O'Rourke said. She and Ruth Tillett, director of the Annapolis Youth Service Bureau, said they must mobilize to protect children at risk of drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, eating disorders and similar problems.
"We consider ourselves a prevention group," Tillett said. "We're trying to give high-risk youths, who have not reached the juvenile court system yet, alternatives to life on the streets."
Without state support, neither center could continue free counseling, tutoring and recreation programs, unless the county chips in several hundred thousand dollars, the directors said. Harundale received $126,940 from the state last year.
But the county faces its own fiscal challenges. County Executive Robert R. Neall has imposed a hiring freeze expected to last 19 months and has asked department heads to develop no-growth budgets for next year.