Editors Note: "Stretched Thin," is examining the effect of the state budget impasse on local social service agencies to put a human face on how the stalemate is affecting the daily lives of Illinois residents.
The YWCA offers services from the cradle to old age, but one of its biggest outreach efforts involves early learning programs for children.
The YW conducts developmental assessments for children who may have physical, emotional, cognitive or language difficulties, and offers them a variety of learning services. It runs a summer camp, provides year-round day care for the children of working parents and helps unemployed parents look for jobs.
The state failed to provide about $300,000 budgeted for YW children's programs this fiscal year, which ends June 30. Those funds provide subsidies that help lower income families to pay for the YW's services. The state recently restored a small portion of those funds, but Melissa Breeden, the YW's director of early childhood programs, says that help came too late for some children.
"We had a four-year-old boy come to us, struggling socially and emotionally. He was extremely violent, he had a language issue, he couldn't express himself, he had had trauma in his life," Breeden said.
The YWCA worked with the boy for two years in one of its early learning programs. "He went from being a a lost, violent child to successful child that loved school, in fact he would cry when he was picked up at the end of the day because he wanted to stay and play with his friends," she said.
Without funds from the state's Child Care Assistance program, the YW could not be reimbursed for the care it was giving. The boy's grandmother -- his guardian -- could not pay for the services without a subsidy, and had to take her grandson out of the program.
"It was a heart-wrenching decision we had to make. Here's two years of progress we made with this child. But we had to dismiss him because we did not have the funds. That's a child I think about all the time and have lost sleep over myself. I have no idea where he is now, and I doubt he's in a place that will foster those attachments and give him the care he needs."
Breeden says she also has been forced to consider laying off child care staff.
"I have had to think about the quality of our programs there's been times the teachers want extra art materials for the curriculum to help children learn and be exposed to fun field trips, things like that. You'd think those small decisions wouldn't have that big of an impact, but it does affect the children and staff morale. It fosters an environment of fear. How long will this [budget statlemate]go on?"
Breeden said many families are confused by what is happening at the state level. "State representatives aren't there to have those conversations. It is really just us. We have keep repeating over and over, 'I'm sorry,' and there are only so many times you can apologize."
Breeden said the YW's diagnostic tests, its screenings for dental, vision and hearing problems, helps catch problems early in a child's life before they require more costly help.
"Also we help the parents. If a parent loses a job we help them look for a job, give them interview tips, give them clothes for a possible interview they might have," she said.
Breeden said it's a misconception that the state subsidies amount to a "handout."
"These are services that children and families need now and are worth funding early on. If children and families don't receive these services now, state will have to put more money in the public education system" in the long run, she said.