So far, social services in this state haven’t been terribly hard hit by the Great Recession. Eighteen hundred positions have been cut from state employments rolls, but many of those were positions that weren’t filled when someone quit or retired. As I reported earlier, the heads of state agencies have been combing their books this last year for ways to save money without seriously undermining their mission. For the most part they’ve succeeded.
But whatever little fat was there has been trimmed. Now we’re cutting into the muscle. Another thousand state workers will have to go, and that will undermine services. Look at what will happen, for example, at the Children’s Division (what used to be called the Division of Family Services–DFS). Used to be that if a teacher contacted them with a suspicion that something bad was going on with one of her students, it would be investigated. But with cuts that are being announced, that will no longer be possible.
Some reports will meet the standard for automatic investigation. If Tommy tells his teacher that someone has been touching his private parts or if Tommy has been showing up regularly with unexplained bruises, then a report about him will be investigated. But take a more ambiguous scenario. Say that Tommy had been in foster care for two years but is now back with his mom and her live-in boyfriend. If the teacher sees a suspicious change in Tommy’s behavior and reports it, that won’t meet the criteria for an investigation.
That’s unfortunate, because the mere arrival of a Children’s Service worker on a parent’s doorstep often has a salubrious effect. If a parent is overwhelmed with the problems that accompany unemployment or is suffering from the aftershock of a divorce, it may help to have someone to discuss that with. Or if not that, knowing that Children’s Services has its eye on the situation might make a parent aware of how much Tommy is feeling the pressure.
Social services workers know how to help in lots of situations. They know how to get an unemployed parent utility assistance. Or if Tommy has A.D.D. and the family has moved a lot, it could happen that the letter from Medicaid went to the old address. That might mean that the child is off his meds, and a parent who is already overwhelmed is more likely to hit an overactive kid. A state worker might well be able to get the family reconnected with Medicaid. That may not be a case of solving out and out abuse, but it is a visit well worth making.
Of course, finances have been so tight at Children’s Services that lots of employees there are overwhelmed themselves. They’ve been required to investigate all reports, and the workload has been more than they could cope with. At least now, they will only be required to deal with the most obvious and serious cases and they will feel that doing that much is possible.
But a lot of Tommys are about to fall through the cracks.