I understand the need to keep our state’s fiscal house in order, but does it have to be at the expense of our most vulnerable children and young adults?

Last week’s announcement by the governor’s office to cut $48 million from the State budget to ensure we don’t end the year with a deficit was not a surprise. What was dismaying was that the largest cuts – a total of $8.8 million – are to the Department of Children and Families, including programs at both ends of the spectrum, from prevention to crisis. The cuts include prevention programs, child abuse and neglect intervention, and counseling for families suffering violence in the home.

Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we’ve heard the crying need to address gaps in our mental health system. Children and young people and families told us they are in crisis, with nowhere to turn.

The tragedy of children waiting for days in emergency rooms for help with psychiatric issues has been widely reported. Here at The Village, the number of children coming to us for psychiatric counseling has doubled in the last two months.

I had been encouraged by legislative attention to solve this problem, and then in October, the governor announced a plan to help children with psychiatric and behavioral problems. He called for $7 million for strategies including beds for young people in need of residential psychiatric treatment and support.

I was starting to believe that we as a state were going to put our money where our mouths are. Plans can be written and public hearings held. But, what we value is what we spend money on. If we believe that investing in the health and well-being of children and young people is important, we need to support programs that work.

I recently spoke to a young woman here at The Village who had been a client in a treatment program supported by DCF. She said that she would not be here today if it weren’t for the help she received. Nothing had worked for her before – including 12 hospital stays. Hers is just one of the hundreds of stories we hear each year.

We must live within our financial constraints, but it is wrong to balance our budget on the backs of young people who need us to survive.

Galo A. Rodriguez, MPH, is president and CEO of The Village for Families & Children, a 200-year-old social service agency that serves 8,800 children and families in the Greater Hartford region each year.

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