Governor Newsom: Support Legislature’s Plan to Protect Abused Children & Seniors
The future of our most vulnerable is in your hands

Blog post Frank J. Mecca, CWDA Executive Director

When the pandemic-induced recession and plunging revenues nationwide began to signal enormous budget holes for state and local government, CWDA called on California leaders to pay special attention to the two populations most at risk of falling through the cracks: abused and neglected children and older adults. Today, we report with gratitude that the Senate and Assembly listened. Their joint budget plan, released this week, includes $1 billion to prevent the decimation of vital county programs, including Child Protective Services (CPS) and Adult Protective Services (APS) programs. As final negotiations begin, the lives and well-being of seniors and children who depend on these programs are now in Governor Newsom’s hands.

This unprecedented threat to human services, health, behavioral health and public protection programs comes from a projected $3.4 billion drop in local “realignment” revenues in the current (2019-20) and coming (2020-21) fiscal year. Of this total, $1.4 billion of cuts would fall on county human services programs in the absence of the Legislature’s action.  The CPS and APS lifelines for abused and neglected seniors and youth are at particular risk, due to the way funds are shared among programs. CPS and APS receive a small share – less than a third – of the human services dollars that remain after required entitlement programs are funded. 

If agreed to by the Governor, the Legislature’s plan would stave off the worst outcomes for those children and adults for whom the stay-at-home orders meant a continuation of abuse and neglect, their bruises and hunger hidden behind closed doors. Without the $1 billion state backfill the Senate and Assembly plan provides, counties will be forced to make deep cuts to CPS and APS programs, estimated at 44 percent of the funding spent last year. Cuts this severe would leave fragile children’s and seniors’ lives hanging in the balance. The abuse and neglect that so many are suffering would continue – and get worse.

The consequences of these bone-deep cuts would be life-altering and life-threatening:

  • Putting Lives at Risk: Social workers are often the only lifeline for hungry or sick seniors who’ve suffered abuse and neglect.  In place of 24/7 county response to calls for help, many injured, sick or hungry seniors would wait far longer for a social worker to help them escape abuse and connect them with nutrition support or health care – help that may come too late to save their lives.  
  • Increasing Older Adult Homelessness: Slower response times for seniors who are victims of financial abuse will make recovery of their assets harder, even impossible. We’ll see more older, low-income adults – already at extreme risk for homelessness – in our shelters and our streets.
  • Delaying Response to Abuse Reports: First responders – law enforcement, doctors, nurses, school teachers and others who are “mandated” reporters of abuse and neglect – will not be able to rely upon APS and CPS social workers to respond when they suspect a child or senior is being abused or neglected. 
  • Requiring Unsafely High Caseloads: Counties would be forced eliminate hundreds of front-line social workers, who are specially trained to respond to reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation and to protect vulnerable children and seniors.  Caseloads for remaining staff would increase significantly. Stretched far too thin, the amount of time a social worker could spend assessing each child or adult for signs of abuse and connecting them with care would be further diminished.  

Even as COVID-19 takes its most deadly toll on the oldest Californians, cuts of the magnitude proposed in the Governor’s May Revision put our aging population at even greater risk of injury and death.  As our population ages, so too does the risk of abuse and neglect for seniors with cognitive issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s, calling for more, not fewer, social workers dedicated to working with families and physicians to help seniors age safely.

At the same time, massive layoffs and school closures forced by COVID-19 have put more families in crisis and placed more children in dangerous situations.  Cutting emergency response workers will jeopardize children’s lives, family unity and could result in more children unnecessarily placed in foster care.

Facing one of the worst budget shortfalls in history, the Legislature made painful choices to arrive at the joint Senate/Assembly proposal.  Even with vital lines of safety for youth and older adults preserved, deep cuts to health, behavioral health and other human services programs – which Californians will rely on to help speed recovery from the recession – still will cause significant pain and will fall the hardest on Californians already struggling the most.  

In reviewing this budget, Governor Newsom should follow the lead of the Senators and Assembly Members who stood by their most solemn duty: protecting abused and neglected children for whom the state has legal responsibility, and the older Californians who are counting on California to be their safety net when they face injury, neglect and exploitation. We urge the Governor to accept the proposed $1 billion backfill to county realignment funds as a part of the final budget agreement.