Carroll's Youth Services Bureau director supported an emergency billyesterday that would enable the agencies statewide to charge fees for counseling based on the income of a client's family.
George Giese, representing the Maryland Association of Youth Services Bureaus, requested that the House Appropriations Committee grant the authority to charge fees before the usual July 1 law-enactment date. That way the agencies can begin to determine how much money could be raised through fees before the next budget year begins July 1.
An emergency bill becomes law as soon as it passes both chambers and is signed by the governor.
The 22 Youth Service Bureaus in Maryland have been victims of state budget cuts for the past two years. In October, the governor threatened to withdraw all state financing for the private, non-profit, community-based agencies. He later rescinded that proposal in favor of less severe reductions.
The Carroll bureau counsels youths and their families to prevent and reduce delinquent acts and substance-abuse problems, and promotes better communication and understanding within poorly functioning families. The bureau has about 200 clients served by 15 counselors, including five non-paid master's degree candidates and two administrators.
The state reduced its allocation to the Carroll agency at the outset of fiscal 1992 from $140,000 to $110,000, forcing the bureau to drop one counselor, said Giese. In mid-year, the state cut another $27,500, which subsequently was restored by the county, he said. Each counselor now must serve four schools instead of three. Future reductions could mean the loss of more counselors.
The legislation would allow the bureaus to charge fees, but would not mandate it. Fees eventually could supplant state financing for the bureaus. The state provided $1.5 million to the 22 bureaus this fiscal year. In the governor's "doomsday" budget, the worst-case scenario, the bureaus would not receive any state money.
Giese emphasized that no clients would be turned away because they couldn't afford a fee or if they refused to pay, and that fees would be discussed only with parents.
"The welfare of the child is our primary responsibility," he said. "People come to us becausethey're not functioning as a family. We try to get the family functioning. Then, if we do that, maybe down the road the family would pay."
Since September, the Carroll bureau has asked for donations fromclients' families. About 10 percent have donated a total of $5,000, said Giese.
"If we could charge, it would be more," he said.
The agency took a survey last year that indicated 40 percent of families receiving services would be willing to pay.
Fee structures for individual bureaus would be determined on a case-by-case basis by local boards of directors and the state Department of Juvenile Services, Giese said.
DJS officials say services to at-risk youths and families have been reduced because of budget cuts and that the bureaus need another source of revenue to cope.