Benczkowski tables $113,000 Catholic Charities counseling program

CHEEKTOWAGA – A $113,000 program with Catholic Charities that provides counseling to “at-risk” Cheektowaga students and their families is going under the microscope at the behest of Supervisor Diane Benczkowski.

Councilmember James Rogowski told board members during the board’s work session Tuesday that the School Intervention Service Program offers free counseling to children and families who have difficulties in their home, school, or community. Catholic Charities counselors see children with anxiety, depression, bullying, attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, family dysfunction, and family trauma.

The program comes with an annual price tag of $113,845.  It assisted 321 kids and 132 families in 2016, and 283 kids and 118 families in 2017, Mr. Rogowski said.

“That’s wonderful – I’m just confused by the bill that they send us,” said Ms. Benczkowski during the work session.  “I contribute to Catholic Charities all the time.  They almost make it sound like these services are available to everyone, but yet they’re charging us for the services.”

Councilmember Linda Hammer was also unaware that the town paid Catholic Charities for this program.

“The appeal by itself does not – it cannot – fund everything that we do,” says Maria Picone, Director of Family and Community Services Department. “We’re in partnerships with local governments, partnerships with county, the state, and those funds get combined to provide the services.”

While Catholic Charities offers individual, children, and family counseling at 17 sites throughout Western New York, Ms. Picone says the School Intervention Service Program is much broader then counseling.

“It is really problem focused, addressing the problem and the multiple determinants of the problem which will include poverty, family conflict, and stresses in the family – there could be learning disabilities – it’s just so much more comprehensive,” said Ms. Picone.

The program’s services are free to any student and their families who attend schools within Cheektowaga, Sloan, or Depew.  The services are not billed through an insurance company which most times ask for a mental health diagnosis before treatment starts says Ms. Picone.

“It’s being paid for by a community that says we want our kids to succeed,” added Ms. Picone.

The funds from the town pays for 1.6 counseling staff members and 10% of a supervisor.

Ms. Picone says it dates back to the 1970’s when it first started in Kenmore, Amherst, Cheektowaga and Lackawanna.  Amherst paid $93,369 last year to fund the program for its residents.

During the board meeting, Ms. Benczkowski asked to table the matter and three other yearly contracts; a $7,238 youth volunteer program with Catholic Charities; a $1,776 contract with the county’s public library system; and a $36,000 contract with the county’s youth and recreation bureau; until a reorganization meeting in January. The town attorney says the delay should not impact the programs.

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