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Budget woes take toll on Riverside County child services

May 30, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A recent child kidnapping is highlighting a growing crisis in Riverside County. Because of budget constraints, Child Protective Services workers are finding themselves having to do more with less resources, and some families are suddenly taking desperate measures.

Donnelly Burns, 3, has spent his life in and out of foster care. An arrest warrant states his parents, William Burns and Sharon Joyce, lost custody because of habitual drug-use.

In March, the couple allegedly kidnapped the toddler. The two allegedly took the child again on Monday, May 23, during a supervised visit in Moreno Valley.

"As he walked out of the building, the father grabbed the small child, and they entered a vehicle, which the mother was waiting in the parking lot with," said Sgt. Joe Borja of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.

Six days later, Donnelly was found uninjured with his parents in a campground near Flagstaff, Ariz. Donnelly is one of 3,900 children under the care of Riverside County Child Protective Services.

Three weeks after he was initially taken by his parents, they were again granted visitation.

"Visitation is very important, because it's the No. 1 key indicator to successful reunifications," said Sylvia Deporto of Riverside County Child Protective Services.

The abduction case has highlighted some of the issues facing the agency. Statewide, Child Protective Services has lost $81 million due to budget cuts.

"As our case loads are beginning to increase slowly--as a result we think of the economy-- we're not able to keep up with the staffing levels to meet the needs," said Deporto.

The most pressing services include drug and parenting counseling. By law, parents are given six to 18 months to get clean and get their lives back on track before they are reunified with their child.

Last year, Child Protective Services received 58,000 calls on its child abuse hotline, which resulted in 20,000 investigations and 2,000 open cases, 90 percent of which involved substance abuse.

"I think our biggest problem is the ongoing use of methamphetamine. Sometimes marijuana is also a problem and alcohol abuse," said Deporto.

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