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Byline: David E. Janssen and Yolie Flores Aguilar

LOS Angeles County held its collective breath as its new 2003-2004 proposed budget was released last month.

In anticipation of California's worst budget crisis in decades, the announcement of multimillion-dollar cuts to county departments surprised no one.

From the most basic of public safety needs such as keeping criminals behind bars and accessible hospital care, to libraries and street maintenance, no services were immune.

Understandably, news coverage of the budget focused on the impact of the reductions.

Lost in that discussion was the children and families budget, a stand- alone portion of the county's overall plan that allows more distinct insight into how the county delivers its services in this particular area.

Even in light of the current budget situation, it is the best thing the county has ever done.

Last year, Los Angeles County took the landmark step of restructuring this unique budget that links children and families' program performance measures with budget allocations, actual expenditures, and funding sources. The result was a groundbreaking initiative to demand strict accountability and drastically improve communication between county agencies.

We will be able to gauge how well services are being provided, and what are the results of the services.

In other words, is anyone better off?

Due to its enormous scope and range, a gradual, five-year process will be necessary for full implementation.

But after only its second year, the restructured children and families budget is proving to be a resounding success.

Further aiding the effort to work harder and smarter for Los Angeles County's children and families is the Los Angeles County Children's Planning Council established in 1991 by the Board of Supervisors.

The council, its eight regional Service Planning Area Councils and the American Indian Children's Council, identified five distinct key outcome areas for children and families: good health; safety and survival; economic well-being; social and emotional well-being; and education and work force readiness.

Taken together, these five areas define what we want for all children and youth in Los Angeles County and form the basis for the children and families budget.

Additionally, the CPC releases its Children's ScoreCard, which measures indicators in the outcome areas.

By utilizing the most recent and comprehensive data available, the scorecard helps to show how collaborative efforts among communities, governments and organizations throughout the county are working to translate this data into action, and helps our government make better decisions about its allocations of resources and how it delivers services.

It is clear that business as usual will no longer work. Particularly now, with income tax season a not-so-distant memory, many of us are taking the opportunity to reflect on personal budgets and spending habits.

As taxpayer dollars make the transfer to government coffers, there is an unspoken hope that those precious funds are being used responsibly to help those in need and to preserve our delicately balanced infrastructure.

The children and families budget is one of the best ways that Los Angeles County is making sure that those tax dollars are servicing our kids better through program accountability and improved communication.

In an environment where even fewer financial resources will be available to serve the county's children and families, we are fortunate to have leadership with the vision and commitment to explore new ways to make the system work.

The children and families budget process will not be the solution for every need in this vast county, but by managing to deliver more or the same amount of services by innovatively working with less, county departments are serving as a role model for other counties across the nation.

From Long Beach to Lancaster and from Pomona to Venice, children and families will benefit from the county's decision to produce a budget that looks at their needs and is helping to preserve more programs and services that are vital to our community.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 5, 2003
Previous Article:SURFING THE TUBE.

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