Officials Seek to Coordinate Family and Child Services : Government: County and cities hope to cut costs by forming a commission to better implement social programs.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County has a graffiti abatement program. So do Simi Valley, Oxnard and other county cities.

So why not form some type of partnership to reduce costs and put the money saved into preventive programs?

Perhaps they can, officials say.

That is the idea behind the formation of a Ventura County commission for children and families. County, city and school officials want to join forces on the commission to find ways to better coordinate a wide range of social services to ensure that scarce tax dollars are not wasted.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to form a committee that will design the framework for establishing the commission, which would be made up entirely of elected officials.

Once established, the commission would be able to help coordinate and perhaps even integrate services provided by various government agencies, Supervisor Susan Lacey said. These services might include things like child care, after-school programs, tutoring and job counseling, she said.

The commission would then determine which programs are most effective and how they might be shared or expanded. It would also look at what programs have failed or are being duplicated and try to come up with more cost-effective solutions, Lacey said.

"We want to look at what works as well as what doesn't work," she said. "We want to pick everybody's brain to see if our dollars can't go further. We need to make sure that when we spend a dollar, we only spend it once."

The idea for the commission was conceived two years ago.

At that time, the county formed the Children's Services Coordinating Council to better address the needs of children at risk, council Chairman Stephen Kaplan said. The council consists of 30 representatives from county and city agencies, school districts, neighborhood councils and private, nonprofit organizations.

From the outset, Kaplan said, one of the council's primary objectives was to establish a commission made up of county, city and school officials who could actually set policy on services for children and families. He said the council will work closely with the commission once it is formed to provide information and develop joint service projects.

Kaplan said he hopes that by forming partnerships among different government agencies that the goal will not simply be to save money, but also to enhance social and educational programs that aid needy children.

He said that by merging anti-graffiti services, for example, the county and cities could perhaps direct more money to after-school programs or other services that could benefit the area's youth.

"If we're able to take some of the money we save and put it into preventive services, everybody wins," said Kaplan, who is also director of the county Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. "Right now we're not creating those kinds of partnerships (between governments). . . . Things are still fragmented. But we're still a county small enough to be able to pull this off."

Charles Weis, Ventura County's superintendent of schools and a member of the steering committee that will form the commission on children and families, said there are a number of ways governments can work together to reduce operating costs.

Weis noted that the Fillmore Unified School District, where he previously worked as an administrator, and the city had shared the cost of purchasing a riding lawn mower and other landscaping equipment. He said the same types of things could be done on a much broader level.

"I hope this will bring a closer collaboration of city and school district services," he said.

In addition to Lacey and Weis, the committee responsible for establishing the new commission will include Supervisor Maggie Kildee, Ventura Councilman Greg Carson, Fillmore Councilwoman Linda Brewster and Santa Paula Councilman Al Urias. Three officials from school districts across the county will also be asked to join the committee.

The committee is expected to meet early next year, possibly at the end of January, to begin discussing its plans for the future commission, Lacey said.

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