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November 16, 2012

57-percent cut in funds?

Henderson County Help Center’s future could be effected by next State Legislative session

Athens — Leslie Saunders, Executive Director of the Henderson County Help Center, spends her days looking for state and federal money to keep the crime victims and child advocacy center operating efficiently.

With state budget cuts looming, Saunders is concerned about these cuts hurting the victims of crime, and not being able to provide adequate services.

At issue is the recently-released Legislative Appropriation request from the office of the Attorney General, recommending a 57-percent reduction in funding to all organizations receiving an appropriation through the Crime Victims Compensation (CVC ) Fund. That fund includes children's advocacy centers (CACs). 

The CVC fund is housed within the office of the Attorney General. CVC is a dedicated revenue source funded through court costs and fees paid by criminal defendants.

If the Help Center's CAC has to absorb this cut, it would mean the programs provided for crime victims, domestic violence, child abuse and Court Appointed Special Advocates could be effected. This would not only effect the Henderson County Help Center, but all centers in Texas advocating for children.

According to information from the Help Center, if this cut were to be implemented, it would take Texas back to a funding level they have not seen since 1999, when Texas had only 38 CACs with a capacity to serve fewer than 20,000 children annually. 

Currently there are 66 CACs in Texas, serving over 40,000 children. Henderson County's CAC handled 494 cases of child abuse or neglect in 2011.

The Help Center took a 10-percent funding cut last year. Saunders said the center dealt with that cut. “Fifty-seven-percent is half of the Center’s budget. It would make a huge impact on the services we provide the community,” she said.  “We work closely with law enforcement. Currently we interview a child who is believed to have been abused. If the cuts go into effect, law enforcement or CPS may have to conduct those interviews.   Children sometimes are scared of people with badges or uniforms. This could effect the prosecution of abuse cases. Children may not report the crime, because they are too scared.”

The center currently has a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE)  to perform a medical exam on a child suspected of being abused. This is a highly-specialized field, and free to all victims. The center does not want to see this disappear.

Saunders was not sure what impact a 57-percent  budget cut would have on this program.  CAC is one of the only  specialized therapeutic services for a child of sexual abuse.

Other programs that could be effected by this sizeable budget cut are the abstinent program, human trafficking program and counseling for the victims. 

When the Texas Legislature resumes session in January, the budget cuts will be debated.

“We will be meeting with Texas Sen. Robert Nichols in hopes of gaining his understanding of what we are facing,” Saunders said. “We haven't given up yet.”

Nichols is on the Health and Human Services Committee.

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