As our legislature continues to plow through the state budget, I feel compelled to throw in my two cents about the Division of Family and Youth Services and the need to not cut out what may be the only safety net many abused and neglected children have.
Only this year, that compulsion is doing battle with my feeling that we sometimes do as much damage to the children who end up in DFYS custody as the drunken, drug using, abusive parents we took them from.
One of the sad realities of being caught up in a system that is ultimately part of a bureaucracy is that a bureaucracy is unable to differentiate between the need to process a business license application and the need to place a child in a safe and loving home as quickly as possible.
And so, as GAL, I find the state all too often warehousing kids who have lost their birth parents and are waiting for new ones. Sometimes it’s a paperwork problem, sometime it’s staff changes, sometimes it’s staff grown too complacent and secure in their jobs to think they have to work very hard. And sometimes it’s a plain lack of people interested in offering these children a home.
But all too often, it is a bureaucracy that has so many levels of law and rules to follow that the child literally gets buried under a mound of regulations. Consider this. For a Native child involved with DFYS, you have federal law that must be followed in order for the state to receive its federal funding. You have the federal Indian Child Welfare Act with its requirements, which differ from the general federal requirements. You have state law that must be followed and you frequently now have tribal entities with their own processes. Somewhere at the bottom of all this is a child who needs a home.
So for whatever reason, far too many children end up with DFYS as their only family. And a bureaucracy makes a lousy family. It hardly ever offers to have the holiday meal at their house and never hugs you just to let you know you’re loved.
On top of this, add the fact that, for the most part, DFYS is understaffed and underfunded and you can see how problems occur.
So some DFYS workers just give up and hide in the system till they can retire. Their supervisors are often too busy cleaning up the mess these workers make to do the needed documentation required to deal with them.
Which is when the Greyhound theory of personnel management kicks into gear. Under this management system, you give a bad employee a neutrally good evaluation or recommendation when they apply to transfer to a new job so that they can’t file a grievance about what you said. You just give them a one way bus ticket to their new job.
If the employee is hired, he/she is out of your section and doing nothing for someone else, usually at a higher salary.
Eventually, word of this employee gets around the system which, despite what our politicians say, isn’t all that big. Soon no one else will hire them or take them as a transfer. At that point, the employee usually settles back and counts the days till retirement.
When this happens at DFYS it’s a disaster. As a GAL, I get calls at home from young children asking me when they are going to get a mommy again, when they are going to get a home. And perhaps most tragically of all, the call in which the sobbing child promises to be good and never do anything wrong again as though it were their fault that they had no family.
Yes, DFYS needs all its social workers.
But we also need to look at a system that allows people to occupy space and time while destroying a child’s hopes and future. DFYS does not have enough workers to allow even one of them to not be functioning at full capacity. And the state needs a system that allows it to identify and deal with these employees expeditiously.
No child who has been abused, neglected and abandoned by his/her birth parents should also have to face de facto abandonment by the state system assigned to oversee their welfare.