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Veto Doesn’t Deter Group Pushing for Children’s Shelter in Ventura County

Times Staff Writer

A much-needed shelter for battered children in Ventura County can still be built despite Gov. George Deukmejian’s recent veto of $2 million in state aid for the project, say advocates, who describe themselves as disappointed but undaunted.

“It is a setback but it is not going to deter us,” said Pamela Burke, executive director of Youth Connection, the private, nonprofit group spearheading the effort.

In September, Youth Connection expects to receive $600,000 in private donations and to launch a fund drive aimed at raising half the cost of building the $8-million, 85-bed facility, said Helen Caldwell, the group’s secretary-treasurer. Caldwell said a charity and an individual donor, whom she declined to identify, have pledged $300,000 each to the project.

Meanwhile, Ventura County politicians are plotting new strategies to obtain the balance of the building funds from the public sector.

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Discuss Funding

Assemblywoman Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) plans to meet with Deukmejian this week to discuss funding for mental-health projects in general--including the Ventura children’s shelter, said Catherine Morrison, her administrative assistant.

And Assemblyman Jack O’Connell (D-Carpinteria) said the proposed $2-million matching grant may be resubmitted to the Legislature late next month as part of a budget restoration bill.

“It will be difficult but not impossible to restore some level of funding,” said O’Connell, who called the governor’s veto “penny-wise and pound foolish.”

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More than two years in the planning and modeled after a program in Orange County, the Children’s Crisis Center would be built on about 23 acres on Lewis Road, near Camarillo State Hospital. The center would not be affiliated with the hospital.

It would provide emergency shelter to juvenile victims of domestic abuse or neglect until they were placed in foster homes. Although details of the center’s daily functions are still being planned, the bulk of its operating costs would be covered by state welfare funds, said Ed Webster, administrative assistant to Ventura County Supervisor Susan Lacey. Lacey is a board member of Youth Connection and a vocal advocate of the children’s center.

Number of Children

The number of children in Ventura County’s foster-care system has risen more than 27% over the last five years--up from a high of 55 youngsters taken in per month in 1984 to 70 per month this year, said Douglas Miller, deputy director of social services for Ventura County and head of its children’s services program. Yet, Miller said, with the exception of a six-bed group home in Oxnard, the county has nowhere to house abused children until they are placed with foster families.

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Said Webster: “There have been cases where children sat most of the night in a social worker’s office or in the police station.”

The crisis center would serve not only as an emergency shelter but as a central location where children would be screened for medical, emotional and educational needs, Webster said. The average stay for the traumatized youths, ranging from infants to 18-year-olds, would be about 30 days.

“Often they come in with lice or scabies or other medical needs and some of these foster-home operators are overwhelmed,” he said. “The goal is still, and will always be, to make sure kids either go back to their own families as appropriate or to a caring foster family. But when they first arrive in the system, it is overwhelming for foster parents to try to take on those problems.”

2 Major Factors

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Miller attributed the increase in abuse and neglect cases to two major factors: the county’s growing population, which is nearing 650,000, and the stress created by recent moves, long commutes and new jobs.

Miller, who is confronted nearly every day by child abuse, said he is angry about Deukmejian’s veto. “I think it’s atrocious,” he said, calling it a blow to organizers’ morale.

The $2-million state matching grant would have served as a catalyst for other donations, Miller said.

The children’s center was among several funding proposals slashed from the budget July 7. The governor’s veto of a sweeping addendum to the $49-billion 1989-90 spending plan cut $20 million in projects for the San Fernando Valley area, including $10 million in improvements to rail service between San Diego and Santa Barbara, $2 million for sound walls along the San Diego Freeway and $500,000 for renovations at Hansen Dam Park.

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State Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Tarzana), who sponsored the budget addendum, Wright and O’Connell plan to resurrect at least part of the vetoed funds, including money for the children’s center, they or their aides said last week.

“It’s very unfortunate because there is certainly a crying need there,” said Teri Burns, Robbins’ press secretary. “We will be looking for other solutions.”


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