Monday, May 11, 2009

Families are too important to fail.

In an op/ed piece in today's Boston Globe, Vulnerable children are suffering twice, the chief of Ambulatory Pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and the executive director of The Children's League of Massachusetts tell the story of a mother helped by the Department of Children and Families despite budget cuts.
Despite their increasing caseloads, the late-night DCF worker and a supervisor came to assess the situation. They knew something we didn't - that this wasn't the first time this mother, a depressed refugee who had been through God knows what before arriving in the United States, had told a caregiver that she was in trouble. By the end of the evening, the mother was in the hospital being treated for her depression, and the children were safe in an emergency placement. The next day, with the mother's agreement, they were placed with a family friend. Now, the mother is out of the hospital with daily supports and the children are back home.
From my perspective as an attorney who has seen way too many cases in which the only help a troubled family received from DSS was to have their children placed in foster care and to face an unnecessarily long and arduous process of getting them back, this case may represent an unintended benefit of DCF's budget and caseload problems. All too often, in my and my colleagues' caseloads, a mother with a history with the Department mentions to a "caregiver" that she is feeling overwhelmed only to have had DSS place her kids in foster care and put them on an adoption track because the mother couldn't "correct" her condition quickly enough.

The "vulnerable children" piece starts by saying the mother brought her children into the clinic "recently." By a couple paragraphs later they are "back home". More often, in my experience, the other parent or a caring family member, let alone "a family friend" is denied the opportunity to help with their troubled relative's children when troubles are brought to the attention of DSS/DCF. It seems to me that not having this repeat customer's kids be subjected to a longer stay in foster care with strangers might be an unintended benefit of DCF's increasing caseload and decreasing budget. Maybe DCF's budget crisis helped these children get home more quickly.

If increasing caseloads and a tightening budget cause DCF workers and supervisors to give additional thought to whether children need to be in foster care and whether their families can be helped instead of being discarded while the children get a brand new "forever family," it might go a long way toward making DCF into a valuable safety net to which troubled parents feel safe turning for help instead of a feared monster set only on gobbling up their children and spitting out the parents who love them.

The authors end by saying:
Citibank, AIG, and the automakers have received unprecedented amounts of money from the federal government because they are deemed "too big to fail." We need to remember to look out for those who are "too little to fail."
To that I would add that families need to be thought of as "too important to fail" and that therefore more of them may need to be treated with the respect and true assistance that this refugee mother apparently received instead of keeping them from their families and rushing them to "permanency" in non-family placements.

Read the rest of the Globe op/ed here.

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