Money could have been used to help children |

Money could have been used to help children

by John Garvin

Everyone knows child abuse and neglect is a horrible affliction in our society, however, it is largely a hidden problem. I have tried to help to reduce the impact by working as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected children for the past seven years. My experience compels me to make a few observations about a recent newspaper article which disclosed that the Division of Child and Family Services (known as DCFS) “reverted” or returned $9.8 million dollars to the State of Nevada for the fiscal year 2009.

It is the primary responsibility of this state agency to protect abused and neglected children in the state of Nevada.

“Reversions” are said to be revenues that state agencies either didn’t need to spend or were unable to spend during the fiscal year. The administrator for DCFS was reported to have said that this reversion was the result of positions held vacant and slower caseload growth than originally budgeted.

On its face, this might appear to be a positive development since belt-tightening is the order of the day in government expenditures as well as in the private sector. But look again as to what this really indicates. While this amount of savings only constitutes a small fraction of the 2009 assigned budget for DCFS, the $9.8 million could have been used to fund additional field case workers to obtain quicker and more thorough investigations so at least minimum safety could be achieved. It is common knowledge that these public servants are overloaded with child abuse/neglect cases to the detriment of the injured children – all arising out of the cutbacks in personnel working in this field.

To say, as did the administrator for DCFS, that the overall number of such cases has not grown as expected, statewide, stretches credibility. Given these hard economic times for many families in Nevada, with unemployment over 13 percent, it would be shocking if there weren’t a corresponding increase in family stress over the past two years likely accompanied by a concurrent increase in child abuse and neglect. Are we dealing only with the tip of the iceberg here? Support for this conclusion is found in an April 2009 article appearing on the internet entitled “More Child Abuse Cases in Bad Economy” by Lily Fu who stated “a disturbing trend is surfacing during these tough economic times – an increase in child abuse cases.” She goes on to state that the trend appears to be happening all across the country, citing various sources and 2007-2008 data.

A look at the proposed biennium budget for DCFS for 2010-2011, which projects a significant increase in child welfare family care cases, also undermines the administrator’s public statement. This proposed budget also shows a corresponding increase of about 12 percent in the 2010-2011 requested budget compared to that approved for the years 2008-2009, even though it is recognized that DCFS has other programs to manage besides child welfare family care cases. My conclusion is that the number of abuse and neglect cases has been increasing all along.

There also appears to be a policy shift at DCFS changing the emphasis from removal of children from abusive/neglectful households to favoring in-home service programs. These are designed to educate parents in the areas of good parenting, anger management, family budgeting, professional counseling as well as other services designed to keep the family safely functioning – removal being the last resort. This approach does save budget dollars and, in some cases, it is better to keep children in their homes if appropriate services can be provided under close supervision. My experience, however, is that close supervision is often not provided, and children remain exposed to potentially harmful situations just to avoid a foster placement in an effort to save money.

The question here, however, is whether this policy shift of emphasis is totally driven by DCFS budget concerns or whether, in any given case, non-removal is truly in the best interest of the child. Either there is a child safety issue endangering a child that requires removal or there is not. One can only hope that the right decision is made at a critical time. The veneer between violence and non-violence is especially thin when drugs and alcohol are involved. It is critical that in all such in-home service cases, DCFS will spend sufficient budget dollars to monitor the home situation frequently.

What about here in Douglas County? How many substantiated cases of abuse or neglect has DCFS received wherein the child is not removed, the DCFS having determined that the matter can be handled with in-home services? Unfortunately, as to such cases, our county welfare officials are kept in the dark as DCFS does not make this data readily available. Unlike Washoe and Clark counties, who are allowed to run their own social services agency, counties with under 100,000 population, such as Douglas County, are totally under the jurisdiction of DCFS. This paucity of information can be corrected if DCFS would keep our county and all the other rural counties informed, as existing Nevada law allows under certain circumstances. Let’s remove the veil of secrecy and protect our children.

John H. Garvin is a Minden resident.