Wednesday, July 1, 2009

UPDATED JULY 2: Michigan and Illinois: The difference is leadership

An excellent story in The Detroit News Tuesday about cuts to youth services in Michigan includes this excuse from a spokesman for Michigan State Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop:

"I don't know where we're going to get the money," said Matt Marsden, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop. "It's not for not wanting to. It's just a matter of trying to reduce the budget enough to pay for it."
But that's, um, nonsense (there's a better word, but I try to maintain the same standards as a "family newspaper" on this blog). It's nonsense when it comes from Bishop, just as it is nonsense when it comes from the Governor's office.

In another excellent story, from Interlochen Public Radio, about the end of Michigan's Family Group Decision Making program, the head of the DHS office in Grand Traverse County (long one of the state's most regressive) says much the same thing.

But while some things are being cut to close a big budget deficit, that's not the reason for the cuts in prevention and family preservation. As is documented in detail in NCCPR's reports on Michigan child welfare, those cuts are being made to finance big rate increases for the powerful private agencies that institutionalize children - almost always needlessly – in Michigan. And the cuts are going to finance a child abuse investigator/foster care worker hiring binge most of which is not, in fact, required by Michigan's class action lawsuit settlement.

The settlement between Michigan and the group that so arrogantly calls itself "Children's Rights," says caseloads need to be lower – but that's far more likely to happen if you spend more on prevention and family preservation programs that keep children out of the foster care system. As it stands now, odds are the new workers are going to be investigating all the new cases that result from the budget cuts, and shoving a lot more children into foster care, leaving Michigan with the same lousy system only bigger.

Illinois also operates under a class-action settlement, and Illinois also faced draconian cuts in child welfare services. But the ACLU of Illinois, which brought that lawsuit, went back to court and won an order from a federal judge barring implementation of what have been called "doomsday" budget cuts. The head of the Illinois child welfare agency himself testified about the harm the cuts would do.

Compare that to Michigan where DHS director Ismael Ahmed is swinging the ax himself, and, as far as I can tell, CR has neither gone to court nor used its high powered PR machine to even speak out against the cuts. UPDATE, JULY 2: CR Just announced it is fighting similar cuts in Connecticut. So why the silence about Michigan?

What a difference leadership makes.

And speaking of leadership: The Michigan cuts certainly don't say much for the effectiveness of the state's giant Child Welfare Improvement Task Force and its get-along-go-along-let's-all-sing-kumbaya-with-Ismael-Ahmed approach to advocacy.

Perhaps if they'd been a little more, oh, I don't know – "inflammatory"?