NYTimes City Room Blog Covers Cuts to Butterflies Program

Oct 4, 2011 |

The New York Times CityRoom Blog put a spotlight on significant budget cuts to University Settlement's Butterflies Program. The 44% reduction in budget could mean as much as a 90% reduction in services to children and families in need.  Read more here and below.

Budget Ax Falls on Children's Mental Health Program

A clinician at the Butterflies Program, Victoria Chiu, at work in 2009.
The program's budget has been slashed.

Librado Romero/The New York Times 


For four years, University Settlement, a 124-year-old nonprofit agency that serves immigrants on the Lower East Side, has offered a highly specialized mental health program geared to children under 5.

Many of those children are Chinese-Americans whose parents, often driven by financial necessity, send them to China as infants to live with grandparents until they are old enough to attend public preschool in New York.

The program, called Butterflies, has helped hundreds of families deal with the emotional trauma and dislocation from the intercontinental moves. An article in The Times last year described how many returning children viewed their own parents as something akin to kidnappers.

But now the program itself, and its administrators, are the ones reeling. Last week the City Council, which has provided the program with most of its financing, reduced its annual allocation by 44 percent, to $200,000 from $356,261.

Andrea Goetz, director of University Settlement's early childhood mental health services, said that the budget cuts had gutted her staff and would force most of the Butterflies Program's clients to seek services elsewhere in the city--if they can find them.

"To see something that you nurtured from the very beginning and had such a huge impact with all of the families and also the staff, to see that go away in one day, it feels like someone I love is dying," she said Wednesday.

Until last week, the program was serving more than 550 children and other family members per month, Ms. Goetz said. But she has had to dismiss three of the program's five clinicians as well as an intern, and she expects that the current staffing levels and financing will support no more than 50 children and family members per month.

Ms. Goetz explained that since the budget cuts were made so late in the fiscal year, which began July 1, the program had already expended a disproportionate amount of this year's money, forcing administrators to reallocate resources and cut staff and programming.

Butterflies is hardly the only social-service program to see its city subsidies cut. The City Council provided money to it from a discretionary fund under a special imitative focusing on mental health care for children under 5. The total budget for the discretionary allocations dropped 20 percent this year from last fiscal year, said Maria Alvarado, a spokeswoman for the Council. Financing for special initiatives, like the childhood mental health initiative, dropped 27 percent, she said.

In addition to the cuts to Butterflies, the Council also made a deep cut in financing for Safe Space, a nonprofit agency based in southeastern Queens, and smaller cuts in money for three other agencies. The Council approved significant funding increases for three agencies--two in Brooklyn and one in Queens--that work with children.

G. Oliver Koppell, a Bronx councilman who is chairman of the Council's mental health committee and has been an ardent advocate for the Butterflies Program, but who is not a member of the budget negotiating team, declined to comment on the Council’s financing decisions this year.

Ms. Alvarado said that members of the budget negotiating team "wouldn’t go into details" about their deliberations.

The Council, she said, faced "many difficult decisions in the budgeting process given the current fiscal climate we're in."


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