Updated: 5 p.m.

The proposed budget cuts to D.C.’s Child and Family Services Agency do not just include the laying off of 54 employees and the cutting of the Rapid Housing Program. It became quite clear at yesterday’s D.C. Council hearing that more cuts have been proposed to the troubled agency.

Judith Sandalow, executive director of the Children’s Law Center, which represents some 1,200 children and families every year, addressed several more proposed cuts in her prepared remarks.

But in an interview with City Desk, CFSA Director Roque Gerald suggested that the cuts are simply addressing a simple fact: the agency has dramatically reduced the number of kids in its care.

Sandalow stated the cuts include a 44 percent cut to the Grandparent Caregiver Program which “financially supports grandparents who are raising children.” In other words, this program prevents these kids from going into foster care. Mayor Adrian Fenty also proposed dropping the amount of subsidies given to grandparents in the program. Sandalow states in her testimony:

“This proposal will lead to hundreds of children and their grandparents losing the financial support on which they have depended or see the amount of their benefits cut nearly in half.”

The total amount the D.C. Council would need to prevent cuts to this program: a mere $2.76 million.

The mayor’s budget, according to Sandalow, would also cut into family-based foster care. The agency recently cut subsidy rates for therapeutic foster parents. These are parents who specialize in handling the most troubled of the District’s wards—-the ones with extreme mental-health and emotional issues. The agency now proposes to cut rates for traditional foster parents by 10 percent.

Sandalow writes: “CFSA simply cannot afford to take this step—-CFSA needs all of its existing foster parents and more.”

The mayor also proposes to reduce the number of group homes by a third. This would mean the city would need to beef up its foster parent roster. But Fenty offers no explanation or plan on how to increase the number of foster parents.

Fenty has also proposed cutting $1.19 million in funding to community-based prevention services and cuts to several other services to foster parents.

Sandalow believes that the funds can be restored through millions of federal dollars available to CFSA.

Gerald says the agency has changed dramatically in terms of the number of kids in care. In 2003, he says, the agency was staffed to handle more than 7,000 children. Those numbers have gone down dramatically every year since. In 2009, Gerald says, the agency reduced the number children by 14 percent. They now have just over 2,000 kids in care.***

Gerald says the cuts to the agency’s labor force simply address the reality that CFSA has a significantly lighter case load. “It’s essentially retooling the agency given the reduction in the number of kids we serve,” he explains.

Gerald adds: “The agency is overall, despite the hyperbole out there, doing a better job across the board.”

But there’s still this question. Did D.C. parents all of the sudden just get better or has the city ignored neglectful families to keep its numbers down? I’ve talked to a number of social workers who can recount call after call to the CFSA hotline that went ignored. Or investigations that ended abruptly with neglected kids not getting the services they needed.

Update: Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, calls in to say that Gerald’s stats are “flat wrong.” In FY 2003, there were 3, 092 children in care.  In FY 2008, there were 2,217 children in care. “There has been a decline but hardly the decline that Mr. Gerald says there is,” Wexler says.

Wexler says his numbers are CFSA’s own numbers it reported to the Feds. Those numbers he found in the Feds’ Department of Health and Human Services’ database. The other issue, Wexler says, is how many kids are they removing from allegedly neglectful homes. CFSA took away 719 in 2003. In 2008, CFSA removed 712 kids.

Wexler says Gerald’s claims of a diminished workload is bunk. The workload is the same. Only now with fewer resources.

“Of course the cuts give me pause,” Wexler says. But he adds that CFSA often makes snap judgements both ways—-that in some cases they remove children without cause. And in others, truly neglected children are ignored. “You take away too many kids needlessly—-that overloads the workers so they don’t have time to find children in real danger,” Wexler says.

*file photo by Darrow Montgomery.