After Daisy Gery turned 2, her foster mother had no luck finding her an adoptive family. The infant's medical ailments scared off Contra Costa couples.
After surviving a 13-week premature and drug-exposed birth, little Daisy seemed destined for a group home or institution.
"She would be bounced around and aged out," Kris Gery said. "That was just not appropriate for my baby."
Gery, 51 at the time, adopted Daisy, putting her confidence in a tight-knit Contra Costa network of foster and adoptive parents and services. State budget cuts have endangered those county programs, along with almost 70 full-time positions, as the county must cut $34 million from the Employment and Human Services Department. These cuts are separate from new reductions that likely will result from the $28 billion deficit the state next plans to tackle.
"It's the worst I've ever seen, no question about it," said department head Joe Valentine. "It's very painful. We serve the most vulnerable populations in the county. When we cut staff, ultimately we're cutting services to those populations."
Contra Costa supervisors will discuss proposed reductions in Valentine's department, as well as in probation, the district attorneys office, health services and other divisions at today's meeting. Employment and human services will take the biggest hit.
"This is a perfect storm fiscal crisis," Valentine said. With no matching local funds due to Contra Costa's own budget problems, his department lost about $17.7 million in state and federal funding. The rest of the $34 million deficit comes from the state's lower than anticipated sales tax and vehicle license fee revenue and other losses due to the economic downturn.
The department has proposed things such as shuttering two emergency receiving centers for at-risk children in Antioch and Richmond, and eliminating the Rides to Success program that provides taxi fare for employment-related transportation.
Despite rising unemployment, job programs, financial, medical and food assistance took hits. Welfare applications are up 35 percent, and food stamps and Medi-Cal requests are up more than 65 percent, Valentine said.
"People are lined up out the door. It's a particularly difficult time to reduce these positions," he said. The cut would be implemented by the end of the year.
Adoption and foster services were recommended for elimination because, unlike other programs, they are not mandated and can return to state control, Valentine said.
"It's a worst-case scenario for us," the director said. "We'd like to do it ourselves; we think we're more effective. ... But we're not legally required, so it's one way to reduce our expenditures."
Those affected do not consider the programs discretionary, Gery said.
"It's another penny wise, pound-foolish decision by the government," the adoptive mother said. "You won't get the quality foster homes that you have. You won't have the personal relationships to know who these children should go home with."
Nancy DeWeese, president of nonprofit Foster Family Network's Contra Costa chapter, deals with more than 100 families. Contra Costa has 1,600 to 1,800 foster children at any given time, about half who stay with relatives, DeWeese said.
"You're going to lose a lot of foster parents," she said.
"(The county program) streamlines the process for the child. A kid can get adopted technically within a year or two, instead of five years," she said.
The Moraga resident, who has fostered children for two decades, is sweating the small stuff, too. The county pays for a Martinez storage unit to keep donated car seats, baby bottles and other items collected for foster families.
Meanwhile, Gery hopes to bring Daisy, now 5, to today's board meeting — if she can finish her two doctor appointments in time. The kindergarten student visits 17 specialists for ailments, such as mild cerebral palsy, chronic lung disease and asthma. Gery, who has three grown children and two grandchildren, no longer fosters because caring for Daisy takes a full commitment.
"I've got nothing but support from the county. It takes a lot of work getting services for a child," she said. "I can't imagine it going to the state."
It could get worse. Valentine says he fully expects to return to the supervisors after the state bridges a $28 billion gap.
"I don't think we're out of the woods."
Reach Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5053 or email@example.com.
Board of Supervisors meeting
(1 p.m. start time for state cuts discussion)
651 Pine St., Martinez