At-risk kids need help from state of NH
Budgets are value statements. As the state begins to craft its next budget, we urge lawmakers and Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan to value our at-risk children.
In 2010, in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Republican House leaders built an austere budget that accurately projected steep declines in revenue and made painful cuts in spending to maintain budgetary balance.
House leaders made tough choices. We agreed with some, and disagreed with others, but the result was a balanced budget without games and gimmicks, and that’s a lot more than most other states can say.
Now that the state’s economy is slowly on the mend, we can begin to repair holes in our social safety net.
During the most recent gubernatorial race, Hassan and Republican nominee Ovide Lamontagne agreed that cuts to the Children in Need of Services program went too far. In fact, we have yet to hear anyone say it was a good idea to reduce funding to a program intended to help at-risk children and keep them from becoming troubled adults.
Responding to the state’s fiscal emergency, lawmakers changed CHINS from a program serving approximately 1,000 children facing a broad range of challenges and crises to a program serving just 50 of the state’s most dangerous juvenile delinquents.
The rise in truancy we have reported in these pages is a direct result of these cuts. And truancy is just one of many problems caused by CHINS cuts.
Far more serious is the issue of children forced to stay in dangerous homes because there is nowhere else for them to go, as residential placement programs across the state shut down due to funding cuts.
Allowing at-risk children to fall through the cracks of society’s safety net is immoral and fiscally irresponsible.
It is immoral because nearly all children have the potential to be good, happy and productive members of society. As adults, it is our moral duty to help children be the best they can be. We simply cannot allow their talents to go to waste. Does anyone disagree with that?
Unfortunately, some children have parents or guardians who are not helpful and, in the worst cases, actually do damage. In these cases, we have a collective responsibility to step in and help that child to overcome the obstacles parents or guardians have put in their way.
These obstacles include physical and emotional abuse, malnutrition and neglect. We believe that given care and guidance, nearly all children can overcome hardships and succeed.
From a cold economic standpoint, it is far less expensive to provide help to a troubled child than to provide services to a troubled adult. Nine hundred and fifty children were cut from the CHINS program to save $7 million. That is $7,400 per child.
New Hampshire has 2,389 state prison inmates who cost taxpayers more than $81 million in 2010; that’s $34,000 per inmate, according to the Vera Institute of Justice True Cost of Prisons survey. And we have seen testimony from state officials that put the figure as high as $100 million per year.
Combine this high cost with the high rate of recidivism, and we can’t think of a less productive way to spend our collective tax dollars than putting people
in county jail and state prison.
On the other hand, we can’t think of a better investment than spending a little money now to help a child or young adult get back on track while they are still able to change.
While we understand how challenging the upcoming budget deliberations will be, we urge lawmakers and the governor to restore funding to the CHINS program.
– Portsmouth Herald