CHICAGO (CBS) — Before Cook County officials vote on a 2018 budget on Tuesday, a group of attorneys and social workers voiced their displeasure with projected cuts to the County Public Guardian’s office.
President Toni Preckwinkle’s proposal includes slashing the Cook County Public Guardian’s $21 million budget. Attorneys say the move is detrimental, putting the most desperately exposed and needy people at risk.
The office is made up of attorneys and social workers who are appointed by the courts to help wards of the state, abused and neglected children and adults with disabilities. One-fifth of their office could potentially receive pink slips and fewer attorneys means an increased amount of caseloads.
Acting Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert said if the budget is approved, he’ll lose 39 crucial staff members.
“They’re my best lawyers,” Golbert said. “They’re my most experienced lawyers. They’re people who work 60, 70 hours a week and then take files home with them to work on over the weekends.”
Those lawyers represent the County’s abused and neglected children, as well as disabled adults. Jeffery Sterbenc is one of them.
“They’re going to put the most desperately exposed, needy people in our county at risk,” he said.
Gathered outside City Hall, President of the Foster Care Alumni of America’s Illinois Chapter James McIntyre said the targeted workers provide those in need with a voice, and that could soon be taken away.
“They’re going to feel like they don’t have that voice anymore,” McIntyre said. “When they don’t have that voice anymore, they’re going to turn into a defensive mechanism. We’ll see current youth in care engage in more gang violence.”
Preckwinkle’s office responded saying all county offices were asked to cut 10 percent of their budget.
In this particular case, Chief Judge Tim Evans made the staffing decisions, proposing to lay off 23 people and close two vacancies out of 200, which he said trims management, but keeps front-line workers.
Golbert disputes that saying there are no middle managers.
County officials are expected to vote on the 2018 budget on Tuesday.