News | Crisis Management: Parents at risk of hurting their kids could use some legislative love. | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

News | Crisis Management: Parents at risk of hurting their kids could use some legislative love. 

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In the face of a ferocious economic downturn, Sharon Anderson has a bold proposal. She recently asked the state Legislature for an extra $1.2 million to help fund Utah’s family-support centers—a network of nonprofit, drop-off nurseries that gives overwhelmed parents a few hours respite from their children during the week.n

But with state-budget builders bracing for a tough year and with red pens at the ready to cut programs, state-funded crisis babysitting might not make their list of priorities. Yet Anderson, executive director of one of the centers—the Family Connection Center of Davis County—defends the program as a vital need in communities across the state.n

“This is not daycare,” Anderson says. “We are dealing with kids who are living in extreme circumstances.” The demand for safe houses for children is growing as parents face more stresses from economic burdens. Anderson hopes additional funds will help pay for more staff, better training and slightly increased wages for employees whose job is emotionally tough, physically draining and which pays, on average, only $7.30 an hour. n

The League of Women Voters of Utah opened the first Family Support Center in Salt Lake City in 1973. There are now 15 facilities throughout the state, from Logan to Ogden, and from Roosevelt to Orem. The centers offer a neutral and safe zone for stressed parents to drop off their children for a short time—up to 72 hours for children under age 12. Parents have used the centers while they go to doctor appointments, job interviews or if they feel the challenge of parenting may be putting their child or children in danger. The service is free and available 24 hours a day.n

“We’ve had people who have lost their homes and left their kids while they made alternative arrangements,” Anderson says. Anderson sees the service as crucial to preventing child abuse, giving parents and children a necessary time out from each other.n

“It’s like a buffer between families and [Department of Child and Family Services],” Anderson says. “We try to help maintain families as families and prevent abuse from occurring.” The centers also provide resources for parents looking for referrals on everything from housing to education to drug-treatment programs and parenting classes, which cover topics like positive child discipline and household budgeting.n

But the centers’ ability to provide child care at critical moments has been stretched thin. Anderson says the centers’ demand has grown by 20 percent in the last four years. This year, the program center served 8,000 but had to turn away 1,500.n

“It costs the state up to $48,000 to pay for one child in foster care for one year. If each family-support center kept two kids out of foster care, then we’d pay for the [requested] $1.2 million,” Anderson says.n

Anderson and her colleagues appeared Nov. 19 before the interim Health and Human Services committee. It was a passionate pitch but, sadly, was only one of many by various groups looking to grow community health initiatives. Committee members wore long faces, hearing one well-intentioned request after another. One request was for $250,000 for pilot funding of a well-researched community health service.n

“I’m all for community health initiatives, but I wish you could help us out by finding an extra $250,000 to make up for the program,” said Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, while shaking his head. “You should know this year is going to be worse than the last.”n

The support centers’ leaders made a rushed pitch to the committee at the end of a long legislative day before the proud women stepped into the hall, excited and optimistic about their case.n

Esterlee Molyneux, director of the Family Support Center in Logan, hopes legislators see that the tough economy is exactly why the agencies and the families they serve need more help.n

“More families are under stress due to the economic situation, more families need help,” she said. “What we do—prevention—saves the state money, so although [it costs the state more now], in the long term, we will literally save millions and millions of dollars for the state of Utah.”

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More by Eric S. Peterson

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