Friday, May 8, 2009

Spitting in the face of your own “Task Force”

It's one thing to ignore your own Obligatory Blue Ribbon Commission, as I've come to call the groups that are appointed whenever a child welfare agency wants to duck responsibility for its failings. It's another to practically spit in the faces of the people who served on it.

You'd think Ismael Ahmed, director of the Michigan Department of Human Services, at least would have waited a decent interval before helping his boss the governor slash at least $19.8 million from funds for child abuse prevention, family preservation and basic help to ameliorate the worst effects of poverty. Depending on how you count things like cuts in day care, employment training and public assistance, the figure could be as high as $40 million or more. There even are cuts of at least $1.2 million for adoption support services and help for young people who've been failed their entire lives by DHS and now are "aging out" of foster care. (Voices for Michigan's Children has a breakdown of the cuts here.)

Many of these programs repeatedly have been cut back in past years; indeed the state of Michigan largely bailed out of funding prevention and family preservation years ago. As is discussed in detail in our report on Michigan child welfare and previously on this Blog they are funded largely on the backs of poor people themselves, using surplus funds from the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

The new cuts come in the form of an Executive Order issued by the governor to close a deficit for the current fiscal year. They come on top of at least $38 million in cuts proposed for next year, discussed in a previous post to this Blog. In each case, the Governor couldn't have thought it all up all by herself.

None of these cuts really is required by Michigan's budget crisis. All these cuts could be avoided simply by not giving two big rate increases next year to providers of largely-worthless "residential treatment" – the worst form of "care" for foster children, and by using the great gobs of money going to hire more child abuse investigators and foster care workers to fund prevention and family preservation instead.

You can get a small but revealing sense of the contempt the people at DHS feel for these programs by the fact that they can't even get all of the names right. Family Group Decision Making, a key component of real reform, is referred to in the Executive Order as "Family group discussion making."

This is, of course, precisely the opposite of what Ahmed's own "Child Welfare Improvement Task Force" recommended.

But it's the same pattern as next year's proposed budget: Anything that might provide permanence or security for vulnerable children takes a hit – while the big, powerful private providers do just fine.

I don't know what's worse – Ahmed's hypocrisy or the providers' obscene priorities.