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Editorial: Spending for kids

Updated: January 27, 2013 6:17AM

Early January is an excellent time to do right by the state’s most abused and neglected kids.

A court ruling last week finally allows for the closure of four state prisons and juvenile detention centers, freeing up state money that is desperately needed to help these kids.

All that’s left is for state legislators to act.

When lawmakers return to Springfield for the lame-duck session on Jan. 3, one of their first acts should be to restore $38 million cut from the budget of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. All told, the agency’s budget was cut by $86 million this year.

If lawmakers fail to act, 1,957 DCFS workers — two-thirds of the staff — will lose their jobs in March, according to DCFS.

For months, we’ve been pushing lawmakers to act on Gov. Pat Quinn’s plans to close under-used or unnecessary prisons and adult transition centers. He had hoped to start the closures at the beginning of the fiscal year, in July. After much resistance and legal action, the last legal hurdle preventing a closure was lifted last week.

Keeping the prisons open, including one that has had no prisoners since July, has wasted precious state dollars. Savings from the closures were originally projected at $57 million. A new figure isn’t available yet, but it will certainly be lower.

Despite that, the state — which has been drawing in revenue at higher-than-expected levels — can and must allocate the $38 million that DCFS has requested. As of October, state revenue receipts were $165 million above state department of revenue estimates.

No one will regret spending these dollars.

A smartly reorganized DCFS will spend the money on 138 new investigators to knock on doors where abuse and neglect is suspected.

Dollars also will go to recruit more foster families at a time when there simply are not enough.

And dollars will pay for specialists who reunite children with their parents or move them quickly toward a permanent adoption.

Children who aren’t well-served often wind up in our prisons as adults.

Let’s spend the money now to make sure that doesn’t happen.

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