Funding for child health and welfare programs at risk

By WEEK Producer

February 14, 2013 Updated Feb 14, 2013 at 9:48 PM CDT

PEORIA, ill. -- They call themselves Voices for Illinois Children. And on Thursday they spoke in unison.

"Hopefully we can get people to understand and remember the importance of what we do on the front end is an investment, its not a cost," said Greg Westbrooks, the director of child welfare services at The Center for Youth and Family Solutions.

Westbrooks was joined by other local children's advocates for the launch of the Illinois Kids Count 2013 report. The report documents the progress and setbacks in the state for programs such as early childhood education, health care, nutrition and safety.

But recent cuts in funding are making it harder to implement those programs. And more cuts are projected going forward.

Advocates argue those cuts actually cost the state more in the future..

"That statistic of spending one dollar now and saving 16 dollars later on makes sense," said Patti Bash, Founder of the Hult Health Center for Health Education. "A child that can read now is much less likely to be incarcerated."

The president of the Tri-County Urban League says part of the problem is government dictating how agencies spend funding. Laraine Bryson points to city codes that forced one local youth center to invest in 63 shrubs around its building for beautification.

"The cost of 63 bushes could fund an after-school program to help young people to be safe," explained Laraine Bryson.

Dr. Kay Saving is the Medical Director of Children's Hospital of Illinois at OSF St. Francis Medical Center. She says the more child advocacy groups can work together the louder their voice will be.

"There are many groups, like the Illinois chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and others, that are constantly in contact with legislative groups and other groups in support of kids, saying we'll work with you to make new programming for kids that still provide the best care and is more efficient and effective," Saving said.

And they'll continue to speak out for those children without a voice.