Local News

Budget could force hundreds from state group homes

Posted July 21, 2009 4:49 p.m. EDT
Updated July 21, 2009 7:17 p.m. EDT

— State budget cuts could force families with mentally ill children to look for new treatment options because some group homes would no longer be able to accommodate them.

"A lot of families are going to be affected. A lot of children are going to get lost," said Noreen Brewster, whose son, Jackson, and daughter, Nina, have benefited from group home services. "With our daughter, she doesn't understand that a lot of the things she says and does could land her in jail on assault charges."

The state wants to shave $15 million off the cost of operating some group homes – the state would have to forfeit $30 million in federal matching funds – but the cuts would require 400 to 500 mentally ill children to seek another form of treatment.

Many of the youths in the group homes have been referred there from the state's juvenile justice system.

Health and Human Services Secretary Lanier Cansler said that he believes adequate options will be available to all of those affected by the cuts.

"This whole thing with the budget is forcing us to do things better, smarter," Cansler said. "What we're trying to do is (look again) at the system and find the appropriate care, which may not be residential. It's just that residential has been the easiest place to put them over the years."

In the future, some children might get more intensive therapy, while others might be able to return to therapy at home. Once the budget is finalized, officials will have about 90 days to assign youths to other treatment options.

Jackson Brewster is receiving therapy at home, but his mother said a previous stay in a group home saved him and the entire family. She said she hopes her daughter and others get the same chance.

"My concern is that they're going to pay for it one way or the other. They better plan on putting more money into the prison system," Noreen Brewster said.