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Vermont Governor Proposes Increased Funding To Child Protection System

Photo of Governor Peter Shumlin with agency representatives as he announces child protection funding package
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin announces child protection funding package

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin today announced an $8.4 million proposed funding package for the 2016-2017 budget years to add staff to the Department of Children and Families and agencies involved in child protection.
Governor Shumlin says the state’s opiate addiction problem has created a child protection crisis.  He announced a budget adjustment package to hire 35 people at the Department of Children and Families, an additional Superior Court Judge, and to provide additional resources to the Defender General and State’s Attorney’s offices.   “This is pretty scary stuff.  The number of children that we are taking into custody, that means kids who are no longer with their parents, has increased 40 percent in the last two years. 80 percent of those cases opiate addiction is at the root of these heartbreaking circumstances. So we have to do better.  Our social workers are doing heroic work. They need more help. So does the system.”

Officials in the child welfare and judicial system joined the governor at the statehouse. Agency of Human Services Secretary Hal Cohen says the funding would be a big step forward to help vulnerable Vermonters.   “Our opiate addiction problem is a child protection crisis. And in a really difficult budget, the governor, the administration, we have made this a priority.  We are very hopeful that by adding social workers, by adding substance abuse specialists that we are going to be able to do a better job protecting our children and also giving social workers the ability to do the kind of work that they need to do.”

Vermont Chief Superior Court Judge Brian Grearson says it is critical to approach the addiction crisis systemically. He is pleased that the governor is also expanding funding across the criminal justice and judicial system.  “This is a system-wide problem that we all have to get together to address.  So I think the initiative that the governor has taken is an acknowledgement of the pressure that is on this system system-wide as a result of the opiate epidemic.  And it’s also a recognition that if we’re going to provide essential government services that those services have to be fully and appropriately funded.”

Governor Shumlin criticized what he called an “irrational exuberance” by the FDA, physicians and drug manufacturers in marketing and prescribing painkillers.  He says that has led to dependence on opiates and the addiction crisis.  “In 2012 we prescribed enough Oxycontin to give every adult living in America a prescription of Oxycontin. Until we have an honest discussion about limiting painkillers and our approach to pain in America we’re not going to be saying we finally found the peak of demand in our battle against addiction.”

To pay for the plan, Governor Shumlin will request a $3.4 million adjustment in the 2016 state budget and a $5 million allocation in the 2017 budget that will be presented to the Legislature in January.

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