Angelic Bessermin has learned how to care for her son just in time to lose him.
Bessermin, 29, is among an estimated 100 families who rely on a supervised visitation program that will end Friday because the YWCA says it’s losing too much money providing it.
“How am I going to get my son?” asked the recovering drug addict. “This is a huge support system, and they just yanked it out from beneath me.”
The YWCA blames the state Department of Social and Health Services, which rejected requests to boost spending to cover the program’s estimated $200,000 in losses during its first year. State officials say the YWCA’s financial demands were too high and that the Spokane program already is getting more money per hour than the statewide average.
At stake is the Spokane region’s largest supervised visitation program that provides troubled families with combined counseling, education and transportation services designed to help reunite them. The state is scrambling to find alternatives, but officials acknowledge the loss of the YWCA program will be significant.
YWCA Executive Director Monica Walters called the development unfortunate.
“They don’t pay for things like canceled visits or no-shows,” said Walters. “We don’t have the fundraising stream for it.” As many as 25 YWCA employees will also be out of a job when the program ends.
Walters considers her request for more money reasonable. “It’s an unfortunate situation. These children and these families really need help, and the state is mandated to provide that service,” she said. “When we told them that it cost us more to do this than we were being reimbursed we had no recourse but to adjust the contract.”
Walters said the YWCA sent a negotiated bid to the state two months ago and was told just last week that Child and Family Services could not increase the funding.
The state’s regional administrator in charge of children’s services, Marty Butkovich, said the department was already paying $28 an hour to the YWCA, which is $7 more than the statewide average. He said the YWCA wanted up to $40 per hour for the services they provide, such as picking up children and bringing them to the center.
“We also have a budget to maintain,” Butkovich said. But he said the state recognizes the importance of the program and is hustling to find alternative venues, even in the division’s own office.
“We don’t want to disrupt something that has been in place for a period of time,” said Butkovich. “It will be OK, though. I’m optimistic” about finding alternative services. He said at least two other agencies have expressed interest in establishing a program but could not name them yet.
Children’s advocates within the Spokane court system call the YWCA program a vital service to the community, one that some estranged parents and children rely on heavily for re-establishing family bonds. The cancellation “can have a significant impact on the children maintaining contact with their parents, provided there isn’t another supervising service available,” said Court Appointed Special Advocate Program Coordinator Patrick Donahue.
Donahue said therapists and case workers sometimes offer supervision or transportation for families, but the YWCA provided the major source for visits. He said he has 1,060 active dependency cases, and many of them involve requirements that families visit only in court-approved supervised settings.
Watching closely is Bessermin. She has worked with a YWCA caseworker for nine months and sees her son for six hours three times a week. She has learned to “enhance the bond by getting on eye level” with the special-needs 8-month-old and has made so much progress the caseworker now brings the child to Bessermin’s home instead of the center.
“We are educated because of the (program),” Bessermin said, explaining that her boyfriend has learned how to bathe the child and interact with him. The caseworker “helped us set goals so he could be developmentally up to age. She gives me resources, and it keeps my mindset positive. To lose that would be horrible now.”
Bessermin said it has motivated her to remain drug-free.
“They have been so awesome and so right there for me and so consistent,” she said. “This is a big loss for me.”