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Budget cutback shutting down ‘Families First’

As a parent of 10 children, Kathleen Wolff sees the value of theLincoln County Families First Resource Center.

Wolff and her husband David, who is president of the SouthwestMississippi Adoptive-Foster Parent Association, are parents of fourfoster children, three adopted children and three children of theirown. She brought her two-year-old foster child to the resourcecenter on Union Street Wednesday for a supervised visit with theboy’s biological father.

“This is a place I know I can come and bring the kids and knowthey’ll be safe,” Wolff said.

The Lincoln County facility is one of 34 across the statescheduled to shut down at the end of March due to budget cuts inthe Department of Human Services. The cuts were announced Friday byDHS Executive Director Don Taylor.

“We’re continuing business as usual the rest of this week,” saidJason Case, director of the Lincoln County Families First ResourceCenter, about the expected closure.

In addition to supervised parental visit assistance, the centeroffers tutorial services, parenting classes and a variety of otherservices. Case has notified participants that Thursday will be thelast day for tutoring services.

“We’ll be here until the 31st, but we’ve got to have some timeto get our stuff out of here,” said Case, one of three full-timeand three part-time employees at the local center.

In announcing the cuts, Taylor cited an over commitment of $20.7million in Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) as a reason. Theclosures affect 238 center employees in the state.

“It is extremely difficult to arrive at decisions of this type;however, all alternatives have been explored, leaving us no choicebut to proceed with the cutbacks,” Taylor said in a letter toCase.

Case said each center received $160,000 a year in TANF funds foroperation. He questioned how much closing the centers wouldsave.

“It’s not like it was a lot of wasted money,” Case said. “Therewasn’t a lot of money there to be wasted.”

Taylor has said the closures will save about $3.7 million.

State lawmakers, meanwhile, are looking at the situation.

Dist. 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a member of Senate Public Healthand Welfare Committee, said a hearing on the closures was expectedThursday. She said lawmakers are trying to save the resourcecenters.

“We are desperately trying to do that,” Hyde-Smith said.

The senator, however, did not offer any predictions on thechances of success.

“It’s too preliminary,” Hyde-Smith said.

Wolff was hopeful the resource center could remain open. Withsome of her foster children’s parents in surrounding counties, shesaid making scheduled visits will be difficult without the LincolnCounty center.

“That leaves me traveling around the world,” Wolff said.”There’s no way I can make three visits a week.”

Case said the center handled DHS-related referrals from ninecounties.

“It’s not only going to affect Lincoln County, but it’s going toaffect the entire area,” Case said.

Case said approximately 125 students were receiving tutoringservices through the resource center. He estimated approximately500 students had been tutored over the four years the center hasbeen open.

Debbie Jones, assistant director, said 50 parents had beenthrough the center’s parenting classes. Six parents recentlycompleted a six-week anger management class and 20 more had signedup to take an upcoming course, she said.

Case and Jones said the closure means that recipients of thecenter’s services will have to find other alternatives.

“It’s going to leave a lot of people in a bind without theservices we’ve been offering,” Case said.