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Child welfare agencies could scarcely believe the news, if they heard it at all. The city will sharply increase funding for a beleaguered set of child welfare services. But quietly, very quietly.

Preventive services, programs that keep kids out of foster homes by helping families, have taken a hit over the last few years after Pataki administration cutbacks. According to a February report by Citizens’ Committee for Children, more than $35 million in city, state and federal funds were slashed from the preventive services budget in both 1996 and 1997.

Answering questions at a series of meetings earlier this summer, ACS administrators casually mentioned that city funding for preventive services would be increased by 27 percent over 1997’s $78.5 million funding level. ACS spokesperson Leonora Wiener told City Limits that the money will go toward a variety of preventive categories, including intensive drug treatment and homemaking programs, and that the increase is tied to the agency’s shift to neighborhood based services.

The agency won’t give more details, however. “We had a conference where agencies had a chance to ask questions, and we responded in writing to all of them,” Wiener said.

Still, because the agency is being so tight-lipped, no one is really sure if the new initiative is really new at all–or if it’s just budget sleight-of-hand. “Whether that means enhancing programs or expanding the number of prevention slots wasn’t clear to me,” said Dr. John Shaw, director of mental health at St. Dominic’s Home. “[If the money] was drawn from the foster care budget we would be concerned.”

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