by LAURA SMITH
ROCHESTER NY--Community organizations are warning that 5000 youth and families in the Rochester area may lose services if budget cuts proposed by Governor Cuomo go ahead.
Those services include early intervention support to prevent youth from entering the foster care or the juvenile justice systems.
Here in Rochester, those services are provided by a number of organizations, including EnCompass: Resources for Learning as well as Hillside.
Hillside's Work-Scholarship Connection is one such program that aims to help at-risk students finish high school and prepare for college and/or employment.
"Through the course of their engagement with this program, which is typically four years, students receive mentoring via youth advocates, workforce training, academic support, and connections to employment in our community," says Hillside CEO and President Maria Cristalli.
Cristalli warns that without Community Optional Preventative Services funding from the state, commonly known as COPS, the current Work-Scholarship program would likely end.
The Governor's proposed budget would see COPS funds combined with the Supervision and Treatment Services for Juveniles Program. The overall funding for those combined programs would be reduced by 20%. The Governor’s Budget states that consolidating the two programs will provide "greater flexibility in service delivery for at-risk youth and to allow local governments to better react to changing needs."
But the impacted community organisations say that without wording to specifically protect the COPS program, the changes will effectively remove those services all together. Meaning that youth and families would only be able to access support if they have contact with either the courts or social services.
Local organizations also warn that the proposed budget would eliminate the use of COPS funds for 1 to 1 donor matching. Community organizations say they’re worried this would make it harder to attract private donors and further impact their ability to provide support to at-risk youth at a time when the need for preventative services has never been greater.
"This is not the time to be reducing investment in prevention," Maria Cristalli says. "Our community needs these resources to support families, to be stronger in communities, and, for our program in particular, for students to be successful in school."
Maria Cristalli says Hillside, along with other potentially-impacted organizations, have shared their concerns with Rochester’s elected state representatives. With negotiations ongoing in Albany it is unclear whether there will be changes to the proposal before the New York State budget is finalized. The deadline for the budget to be passed is April 1st.
LAURA SMITH is a volunteer reporter for Reclaiming the Narrative. She can be reached at email@example.com.