Pubdate: Tue, 29 Feb 2000
Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Copyright: 2000 Cox Interactive Media, Inc.
Contact:  P. O. Box 670 Austin, Texas 78767
Fax: 512-445-3679
Author: A. Phillips Brooks, American-Statesman Capitol Staff


At 14, Sydney changed in ways that seemed unnatural for a well-mannered and
smart teen-ager struggling with puberty.

His grades plunged. His attitude soared. He was rude to his mother and
spent long hours locked in his room.

His mother, Cecilia Padilla-Lartey, suspected that drugs were the cause.
She took action, placing Sydney in Phoenix Academy in Austin, which
provides residential treatment and counseling for teen-agers who have
substance abuse problems.

Padilla-Lartey said it took five months to find a program close to home.

At 15, Sydney is recovering. But other youths might not be so lucky come
spring. Several Central Texas treatment programs for youths are scaling
back -- or even closing -- because of budget cuts by the Texas Commission
on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

"Austin, and this community, will lose 14 beds for adolescent treatment,"
said Laurie Delong, director of the Phoenix Academy, whose program is
losing $400,000. "It's devastating for the people seeking and needing the

The situation is worse at Austin Recovery Center, where officials are
contemplating whether to close their youth treatment program to compensate
for a $713,116 cutback. "This is disastrous to us," said Bill Wigmore,
executive director of Austin Recovery.

The Phoenix Academy and Austin Recovery are among about 20 providers in
Travis, Williamson and Hays counties -- and 209 providers statewide -- that
will surrender money from state contracts as the commission averts a $28
million shortfall. Statewide, the cuts range from about 5 percent for some
agencies, to about 22 percent for others.

The cuts are hitting agencies particularly hard because the state agency,
which finances drug and alcohol treatment programs, did not disclose its
shortfall until November, three months into the new fiscal year.

Commission officials said the shortfall happened because the agency
underestimated spending by the 209 providers and overestimated its
end-of-the-year balance. To balance its budget, the commission cut
providers' contracts back to 1999 levels. Most of the commission's $165
million annual budget comes from federal dollars.

"We have resolved this budget situation in a way that preserves 1999
service levels in every region in the state," said Jay Kimbrough, who
became the commission's executive director Feb. 1.

Commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said providers have until Friday
to decide how they might revise their programs. The commission will
complete budget cuts and program changes by March 17.

"They have some options and there may be some negotiations," Goodman said,
adding that the commission will ensure that currently available treatments
are not completely eliminated.

"Everyone can't shut down their methadone treatment services," she said.

Several providers said the cuts will leave them unable to meet growing
demands, especially among the underserved, such as teen-agers and families.

"We are proposing closing down our women and children's unit," said K. Paul
Holt, administrator of the Freeman Center in Waco, which includes a
nine-month residential program for five mothers and their children.

Many providers are focusing cuts on youth treatment services because there
is greater demand for adult programs. Padilla-Lartey said any cuts to youth
programs would leave children like Sydney without a place to go.

"It got to the point, any time the phone would ring, I thought it would be
someone saying, 'We just found your son in an alley or creek out of his
mind,' " said the single mother who works for Austin Community College.

"I thank the Lord we found a place for him at the Phoenix House. A lot of
families will be harmed if it is cut back."

You may contact A. Phillips Brooks at  or 445-1705.
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