SOUTH BEND – The St. Joseph County Family and Children’s Center told 27 full-time employees they’ll be out of a job at the end of March. Counselors also had to tell 28 children it can’t help them anymore.
The center gave WSBT exclusive access to their facilities Wednesday to learn more about what these cuts mean.
Both the Family and Children’s Center and St. Joseph County Probate Judge Peter Nemeth said the layoffs are a result of funding cuts from Indiana’s Department of Child Services.
But Regina Ashley, DCS Deputy Director of Placement and Support Compliance said they layoffs are not a result of funding cuts, rather a change in the way centers pay for treatment they give kids.
“Most of these kids [at South Bend’s Family and Children’s Center] were ready to go home anyway,” she added.
For troubled, abused and neglected teens like Roger Knapp, the Family and Children’s Center was the only place he could go.
“I was living on the streets for a couple weeks, sleeping in alleys and I really didn't have any other place to go,” said Knapp. “All my belongings were in a cardboard box.”
But when he found out the center is laying off 27 full time youth treatment specialists, cutting 5 of its 12 programs and forcing more than two dozen children to get help somewhere else, he said it made him very angry.
The center already cut more than 150 jobs through attrition and termination since 2010, said Family and Children’s Center marketing and development director Jory Fitzgerald Kelly.
Family and Children’s Center Program Coordinator and Therapist Jennifer Garcia isn’t losing her job, but she had to tell some of the 28 affected kids they can no longer get help at the center.
“One girl in particular was very shocked. She said ‘What's gonna happen to me? If I have to go back to where I'm from, I'm gonna lose all my opportunity.’” Garcia recalled.
“I am just tremendously outraged,” Judge Nemeth said.
He sees many troubled kids in his courtroom and state law says Nemeth must do what’s in the best interest of those kids. But he said that’s become more difficult since the legislature took away his ability to send them to homes out of state. Now, he won't be able to send many of them to the Family and Children’s Center.
“It’s a farce and the legislature ought to change the law. If they don't want us to do what's in the best interest of the children, perhaps that should no longer be the mission of the Juvenile Justice Center,” he added.
He also claims eliminating services now will cost taxpayers in the long run because troubled kids who don't get help are more likely to end up in prison.
“It’s heartbreaking what the governor and child services are doing to children in this state,” he said.
About one-third of the 28 children are going home to their families – the center says its ultimate goal in all treatment programs is to reunite families. Another third will be placed with other area agencies for treatment, and the rest will most on to other residential facilities,” Fitzgerald Kelly said.