Child and Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut, a major private non-profit provider of a host of human services safety net services, awaits the governor’s upcoming budget address with growing concern.

The governor’s two recent waves of budget cuts (rescissions in November and January) dominate what we see in our rearview mirror as we deal with the damage done to our service delivery capacity, and the forward view out the windshield is even worse.  Child and family-serving programs such as Family Violence Outreach and Counseling, Child Abuse and Neglect Intervention, and Community Based Prevention Programs got whacked in November.

January’s second round of rescissions did even greater damage to children as over $602,000 was pulled from Connecticut’s School-Based Health Centers. That amount has to be saved with less than half of the fiscal year remaining. To make matters worse, the forecast on the heels of those “round 2” rescissions is that more cuts are coming as the state’s budget deficit grows.

Just a few months ago, reflecting on May being “Mental Health Awareness Month,” I commented on the work that was, and still is, underway to implement the intent of Public Act 13-178, aimed at making improvements to the state’s children’s mental health service delivery system in response to the Newtown tragedy.  At that time I worried that, given the state’s budget woes, the implementation of all this planning would amount to little more than window dressing. I wrote that, “All who are involved in crafting improvements to the children’s mental health system must have the sustained wisdom and courage to look honestly at the actual cost of delivering quality care, rather than doing what is usually done, i.e. determining the size of the funding ‘pie’ and then backing into decisions regarding the quality and availability of services.  Improving early identification and referral are wonderful and achievable goals, but the end result will be only frustration if fewer providers are ‘home’ to answer the phone and come to the door.”

Based on the recent and likely additional cuts being disproportionately thrown at the private, non-profit sector, which already provides effective services more inexpensively than other sectors, it turns out that my “window dressing” worries were overly optimistic. We will be pleasantly surprised if the governor’s budget proposal doesn’t downgrade the remaining window dressing and simply wall up some of the doors that Connecticut’s most needy use to access critical services. Perhaps Connecticut will decide to head down the path Pennsylvania did in 2011: Increase funding for prisons concurrent with cutting funding to education and human services.

In partnership, government, service providers, consumer representatives, funding sources and policy makers have a shared responsibility and opportunity to do far better than that. Service providers know times are tough and that there’s no money tree growing in the yard. At the same time, when the legislature works through the governor’s proposal, we urge them to not balance the budget on the backs of the segments of our citizenry who are most in need.

Rick Calvert, MSW, LCSW is chief executive officer for Child and Family Agency of Southeastern CT.

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