The state Division of Child and Family Services is shutting down its emergency children's shelter March 31.

DCFS officials said that since they changed methods for handling children in crisis, fewer children go to the shelter and it is no longer needed.Shelter employees were told last week about the shutdown.

"We feel like we weren't given a straight answer," shelter employee Maggie Pope said. "We are shocked and surprised they did this. We were told we would have at least six weeks and now we have two."

The shelter houses children endangered in a family crisis until a foster family is found to care for them. Since DCFS began placing children immediately into foster homes, the number of children going through the shelter has fallen dramatically, said director Paul Curtis.

The shelter has been underutilized since last fall because of the change in practice and is beginning to use more family type shelter programs, Curtis said. "It is really a move to improve the program as well as save some money."

It costs about $240,000 a year to run the shelter, he said. Placing the children directly into a foster home is expected to save $40,000 to $50,000 annually.

Only three children are at the shelter, which is capable of holding 12. The number of children staying at the shelter in the past six months has been cut in half.

The 15 paid employees, four of whom work full time, wonder why the news was so sudden. There have been rumors of a shutdown since November, but, when employees asked, they were told there would be at least a six-week notice.

"It just makes me question what is happening," Pope said. "If this was on the up and up, why all the secrecy?"

"We would like to know the real reason," said Diane Nielsen, part-time employee at the shelter. "The whole thing is strange. It seems like there is something going on we are unaware of."

Shelter supervisor Loray Brown said none of these concerns were brought to her attention at the meeting. She said all employees were hired on a temporary basis and did not require more than two weeks notice of a shutdown.