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Alabama Children’s Agency Takes Action Early

By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

In anticipation of proration, Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Director Kelley Parris-Barnes, MSM, put plans into motion last year and made dramatic changes to the way her department operates.

Parris-Barnes, took a proactive approach to insure that the department would continue to provide the vital services that are needed by children who are neglected or abused.

The Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention is the only agency in state government that makes available these one-of-a kind services.

John Merrill (R-Tuscaloosa), the Chairman of the department said, “This is the only agency in our state dedicated to the irradiation of child abuse and neglect of children throughout Alabama,”said Merrill, “This agency has had a singular charge for our children no one else is meeting those needs and they have stayed true the their charge.”

Parris-Barnes,took many steps to prepare for hard times, first she did not replace staff that had moved on form the agency to other jobs. Then she looked at the office space utilization. “We needed 50 percent less space so we moved out of the building we were in into a different area, not so close to the State House or the Capital. We saved $100,000 per year in rent. That gave us the ability to put more money back into preventative programs and back into the communities,” said Parris-Barnes.

She said the also changed other philosophy of how they do technical assistance and financial oversight with program development. Instead of having an individual employee dedicated to the management of individual funding streams, they divided the state into territories and cross-trained all of the staff for all programs.

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Parris-Barnes said, “That saved a lot of money on travel expenses.” By cross-training employees they are able to send one person into a territory to address all of the needs of the programs in that area. The Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention manages over 100 programs.

“We provide program oversight, financial oversight, and technical assistance. We make sure that the grants do what they say they are going to do and we look at their evaluations to make sure they are making a difference,” said Parris-Barnes.

This year they are going to a two-year grant cycle instead of a one-year grant cycle to elevate fear at the local level. Assurance that monies would be available for next year’s budget would prevent staff layoffs and program discontinuation at the local level. “Mainly to ensure that children would have sustainability in program,” she said.

Another cost saving plan was going to congressional district and doing sustainability training. “We brought all of those teams together and said, ‘If there is any duplication of services within a reasonable region we need for you to guarantee us that you will take our consumers into this program. Then we want to look at ways that you can sustain programs in case we lose our funding.’”

Also, they divided state into mental health catch groups. Those health groups asked to outline their needs. “When a grant is opened now, their needs list is reviewed for the top three needs, then the grant is applied,” said Parris-Barnes. “We don’t do it by subjectivity any longer. It is done on our data that shows what the needs are. And it is done on those focus groups where those local communities say we need programming to prevent child abuse and neglect.”

Since not all programs will work effectively with a statewide application, “you have got to look at the individual tailored needs of those regions and then support the programming that the people in that region say is going to prevent child abuse and neglect. Now we know that our dollars are being spent in the most efficient and effective manner,” she said.

Another big supporter of the department is Senator Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) , recently he said, “We worked very hard to get a bill out of the Senate that will provide funding for Department of Child Abuse and Neglect. If we look at cutbacks in the state–and we know we are tailored going to have them–this is an area where we cannot have cutbacks,” said Dial.

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