In these lean budget times, there’s a lot of talk about “right-sizing” government. Recently I’ve also heard people speak of what government “must” do versus what government “should” do and that in these tough times, we have to let a lot of the “shoulds” go. But indulge me for a moment as I think about kids.

The other day one of my colleagues pointed out a few “shoulds” for kids. Kids should do their homework and they should brush their teeth every day. Technically, these aren’t “musts.” If they don’t do their homework this weekend, they’re not going to be expelled from school on Monday. If they don’t brush their teeth tonight, they’re not going to see all their teeth fall out by Tuesday. That said, even in tough times, we still make our kids do their homework and brush their teeth. Why? Because we know there are serious long term consequences if they fail to act responsibly today. The same is true for government, especially when it comes to caring for our kids and planning for the future of our state. That is why we MUST not continue to cut the budget of the Department of Human Services (DHS) in a manner that hurts kids. We have to fund some of the “shoulds,” even if it requires increases in revenue.

One of the biggest concerns I have about the proposed DHS budget [summary available on DHS’s home page. Scroll down to Joint Appropriations Committee Presentation] is the attempt to “save” money by putting additional responsibilities on existing workers. Those existing workers are already way over-burdened and shifting more responsibility to them, will simply result in the work not getting done – not because the workers don’t care, but because the workers have reached a breaking point, they are already stretched beyond all measure and cannot be asked to do more.

A few key points about the DHS budget:

–         At a time when more people are unemployed and thus needing help – including help to feed their children, the state is reducing the number of eligibility workers.

  • When it comes to children, helping eligible people access food stamps and other essential safety net services is not a should, it’s a must.

–         At a time of greater stress for families because of the economic situation, we’re investigating fewer cases of child abuse and neglect but also cutting in-home case management contracts by $2 million.

  • Those in-home services help families whose children were diverted from state custody but are considered at risk of abuse and neglect.
  • Protecting children from abuse and neglect is not a should, it’s a must.

Evidence says our DHS workers are already at a breaking point.

–         The most recent report from federal monitors appointed due to a lawsuit against the state related to conditions in the child welfare system shows a significant reduction in oversight of private placements for children in foster care at the same time we’ve seen an increased percentage of children abused while in state custody (abuse rate in report is double that allowed by the lawsuit settlement and triple the newer federal standard).

–         The same report shows a dangerous drop in case workers meeting the requirement to visit children in foster care twice a month. Goal is 95% of children visit with their case managers twice a month. Last report shows only 51% of cases reviewed met that standard.

–         Maybe even scarier, the most recent Child Fatality Review Panel report reveals more than a 30% increase in “homicide deaths associated with maltreatment findings.”

–         Also check out TV news coverage of the situation in Fulton County.

Is protecting children a should or must? Apparently not all of us see eye-to-eye. What do you think?

beth

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