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Governor's Budget Slashes Child Welfare

MIAMI (CBS4) - Florida children like Nubia Barahona, her brother Victor, Ju'tyra Allen, Jermaine McNeil, Gabriel Meyers, Rilya Wilson; they are among the abused, the neglected, the dead..

"I believe in the protective power and prayer and hope," Governor Rick Scott's Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins said at a stop in Miami last week.

But children's advocates say kids in Florida won't have a prayer if Governor Scott's proposed massive cuts to DCF are approved.

The governor wants to slash DCF's budget by $179 million. The cuts would eliminate 1,849 positions in the child welfare agency - a 14 percent reduction in its workforce.

Scott and Wilkins have avoided talking about the proposed cuts. Wilkins was vague in his responses at last week's news conference. Governor Scott's staff did not respond to emails from CBS4 News and Scott declined to answer questions posed by CBS4's Gary Nelson during a stop in Miami on Friday.

Scott briefly addressed the issue when questioned at a news conference in Tallahassee Wednesday by CBS4's Ted Scouten.

"One thing state government needs to do is tighten its belt," Scott said. "We have to figure out how to be more effective with less money." The Governor did not take follow-up questions.

Advocates for children and families argue that funding to DCF has been cut repeatedly over the years and that Florida ranks among the bottom ten states in assistance to kids who are in need or in danger.

"It's very disturbing, I think," said Modesto Abety, President of  The Children's Trust of the Governor's proposed budget. "It's very dangerous."

Abety said hard economic times are the worst time for help to children to be curtailed.

"We are in a deep economic crisis. The Department of Children and Families helps and supports our most vulnerable citizens," Abety said. "In the past three months, we've seen a 38 percent rise in the number of children who are being called in to the help line."

While Governor Scott has proposed massive cuts to DCF, he has proposed no such austerity for his own office. Scott wants to increase the budget of the Governor's office by $343 million, an increase of 116 percent, adding 91 positions to his personal staff.

Some members of the Governor's own party have declared his budget "dead on arrival" in Tallahassee. The alternative, advocates like Abety say, is more dead children.

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