Budget Battle Worries Luzerne County Children and Youth

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WILKES-BARRE -- As Luzerne County budget negotiations continue, county council wants to cut millions of dollars and council members say everything is on the table.

One of the county agencies concerned about the budget is Luzerne County Children and Youth.

The department is struggling to bounce back after the state human services department downgraded its license last year. And officials with children and youth say to make needed changes, they need their budgeted money.

Luzerne County Council is looking to cut nearly $10 million in next year's budget. It's needed to avoid a property tax hike and a new vehicle registration fee.

"We are scrutinizing the budget to make sure that it is as lean as it could be," said council member Rick Williams.

Among departments that could see cuts is Luzerne County Children and Youth. It's the same agency state human services department has been keeping a close eye on since the state reduced its license to a provisional status last year. That means it faces more inspections.

The new director of human services, which oversees children and youth, says a budget cut could make it more difficult to rebound.

"We're asking for the same amount that we asked for last year," said Michael Donahue, Luzerne County Human Services.

Children and youth had its license downgraded because the state found it had excessive complaints made against it the year before. A new records request by Newswatch 16 reveals that last year, Luzerne County Children and Youth had 147 complaints made against it. That's more than any other in the state, topping agencies in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas.

"I'm not the only one that I've known that had a problem with children and youth in this area," said Sharda Wheeler.

Wheeler isn't surprised about the high number of complaints against Luzerne County Children and Youth. She says the agency recently took away her kids without justification. She fought to eventually get them back.

But changes have been made at Luzerne County children and Youth under new leadership. So far, in the first six months of this year, it saw about a 30 percent decrease in the number of complaints.

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