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Sweeping Changes in Services for Children Urged by State Panel

October 27, 1987|LOIS TIMNICK | Times Staff Writer

The state Little Hoover Commission, with nearly a third of its members dissenting, issued a set of sweeping recommendations Monday for revamping services to children throughout California.

Chairman Nathan Shapell said the state is misspending much of the nearly $6 billion annually allocated for children's services--the bulk of which is welfare--with fragmented, overlapping or inadequate programs, while the system strains at the seams and many children who need services do not get them.

"Although California has recognized its responsibility for the well-being of children" with numerous programs and significant resources, "the state's present children's services delivery system is beset with critical problems," the commission said in a letter accompanying the report it sent to Gov. George Deukmejian and leaders of the Legislature on Monday.

'Children's Czar'

The report calls for the formation of a state commission on children and youth, or a "children's czar," the adoption of a uniform children's services policy, and the establishment of a statewide program for runaway and homeless youth.

Shapell said the proposed bipartisan commission would "review the whole (children's services) system and have enough authority to make changes whenever they are necessary. . . . " Thirty-two other states have a single commission or agency responsible for coordinating children's services.

Other major recommendations include changes that would make day care available for more children, set minimum training and educational requirements for care-givers and teachers, and require that all child abuse investigations be videotaped or recorded.

The commission's 23 findings and 36 recommendations are the result of a 17-month study that included two public hearings and contributions from a 36-member advisory committee.

Shapell insisted that implementing the report's suggestions would cost "nothing for the time being."

At a press conference Shapell called Monday in Los Angeles, Assemblyman Stan Statham (R-Oak Run) termed the report "the best I have ever seen detailing child care problems and solutions," and vowed to introduce legislation to make several of the recommendations part of state law.

But four of the 13 members of the commission, formally titled the Commission on California State Government Organization and Economy, dissented from the report, and a fifth said he had reservations about some of the recommendations.

Commissioner Barbara Stone, a political science professor at California State University, Fullerton, complained that that she had not even heard about several of the recommendations before reading them in the final report, a report she called "Shapell's report, not the commission's."

She said in a telephone interview that several commissioners are concerned about the wisdom of adding "another layer of bureaucracy" to a children's services system that is already top-heavy with administrators and short of workers who deal directly with children. In a dissent released with the report, Stone said an inter-agency task force made up of one representative from each agency servicing children would be more appropriate.

Stone also said many of the reports's recommendations directly contradict its findings. For example, she noted that while the report finds that the working poor need more subsidized child care spaces, it recommends that welfare mothers participating in so-called "workfare" not be given preferential treatment in state-subsidized child care programs.

Other dissenters included Commissioners Philip Wyman, Lester Oshea and George Paras. Richard Terzian said he "acquiesced in its issuance," but did not fully support some of the recommendations.

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