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SCSB cuts ties with Healthy Families / April 21, 2010
The Southside Community Services Board Tuesday voted to terminate its relationship with Healthy Families Southside, leaving the counseling and support organization for young mothers without a parent agency or much hope for continuing its services in the future.

The SCSB governing board, by a 4-2 vote, decided to cut ties by June 30, the end of the fiscal year. The dissenting votes were cast by representatives from Halifax County where Healthy Families got its start in the region. The program has since spread to Mecklenburg with plans in the works to broaden services to Brunswick, the third county in the SCSB’s service area.

SCSB Chairman Margaret Neblett of Lawrenceville said yesterday after the vote that the agency decided to end its relationship with Healthy Families due to the drain on the budget and because SCSB is likely to be handed additional responsibilities for treatment of mental illness and substance abuse under the newly- passed federal health care law.

“We are going to get a real influx” of cases under the new law, said Neblett.

Neblett noted that Southside is one of only a handful of CSBs in Virginia to host Healthy Families, which provides counseling, referrals, job training and educational services to young families and single mothers, many of them teenagers. The program stresses preventative intervention at an early age so children grow up without further need for services as teens or adults.

Although Neblett predicted yesterday that Healthy Families will be able to find a new fiscal agent – “I don’t think this will be the end of Healthy Families, just us hosting them” – program director Debby Knight of South Boston said in an e-mail message yesterday that she expects to close up shop in a matter of months.

“Healthy Families currently works with 34 families in Halifax and Mecklenburg counties,” wrote Knight in the e-mail. “We will be wrapping up our service to those families, transitioning some to other services if we can.

“There are not many programs in this region, which is one reason Healthy Families has been such an important part of the support landscape. We will be writing final reports for our grants, and thanking our wonderful community partners who have made this program successful. We will be shifting responsibility for coordinating parenting classes to other CSB staff, and packing up our files,” wrote Knight.

“We have a tremendous amount of information for young families and will be exploring ways to get that information out into the community where it is so needed. The Healthy Families staff as individuals will be looking for other opportunities to help our community, bringing experience and skills gained through our service to our families.”

The SCSB decision comes as Healthy Families chapters nationwide anticipate an influx of funding from the federal health care bill for preventative services. In a prior interview, Knight said Healthy Families Southside was especially well-positioned to receive fresh grant funding from a national pool of $1.5 billion because the local program serves a large at-risk population.

Healthy Families’ relationship with the SCSB was frayed by the loss of a two-year, $70,000 Partners in Prevention grant in 2007. Since that time, the SCSB has devoted a small share of its overall budget to Healthy Families to offset the funding shortfall. Neblettt said yesterday that through the first nine months of the current fiscal year, the SCSB has covered a $48,503 deficit for Healthy Families. The SCSB’s overall budget is $12 million annually.

Aside from the financial support, Healthy Families also needs a fiscal agent to apply for outside grants – another reason the program is preparing to fold up in the wake of the SCSB decision.

Neblett noted that Healthy Families is not part of the agency’s performance agreement with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services and thus needs to be self-sustaining. She said the SCSB has many other programs, including several designed for children, that it needs to focus its efforts on.

“We are going to have a lot coming at us, and that was one of the considerations,” said Neblett. Neblett said the additional responsibilities will include treatment of growing numbers of children struggling with mental health issues and household substance abuse. Existing SCSB programs already serve some 300-400 children each year, she said.

The staff of Healthy Families is welcome to apply for vacancies at SCSB and “will be afforded all the entitlements that we normally provide,” said Neblett. Besides Knight, Healthy Families employs case workers in Halifax and Mecklenburg counties, and it had planned to branch out into Brunswick before SCSB cut ties.

The vote to withdraw as Healthy Families’ fiscal agent was 4-2, with Halifax board representatives Stan Bradshaw and Betty Jones opposing the action. Voting to cut ties were Joe Bittman of Brunswick, Shirley Wetherbee and Jacie Roberts of Mecklenburg, and Sue Kennedy of Halifax. As chairman, Neblett said she votes only to break ties.

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