Monday, July 20, 2009

Michigan update: Three tiny drops in a very large bucket

I know that after 33 years following child welfare, nothing should shock me – least of all cynicism and opportunism from the group that so arrogantly calls itself "Children's Rights" (CR) – but the level of hypocrisy in the press release they just put out here: is appalling.

If the cynicism isn't bad enough, how about the fact that they apparently think every Michigan advocate and every journalist following child welfare in the state is an idiot.

They've put out a press release bragging about the fact that, due to their lawsuit settlement, the state is going to have to spend all of $4 million more on programs to help families. (Actually, even that figure is high, some of the money will go to other programs that are worthy but don't involve family preservation.)

That is about one-tenth the amount that Michigan DHR director Ismael Ahmed cut from similar spending just in the emergency budget cuts for the current fiscal year. (He's proposed another round of cuts – just as bad – for next year. Details on the cuts are in this previous post.) Did CR think no one in Michigan would notice that the "new" spending is only one tenth of the cuts?

The cuts are not being used to close the state's budget deficit. Rather the cuts are being used to finance rate increases for residential treatment providers, and to pay for a foster care worker /child abuse investigator hiring binge that is entirely unnecessary. (There are much better ways to cut caseloads).

And CR enabled those very cuts, because its settlement includes no provision barring Michigan from cutting prevention and family preservation programs in order to pay for the settlement.

A little background:

The settlement called for a "Needs Assessment."

Over and over again, the Needs Assessment stresses the urgent need to spend more on family preservation.

The Needs Assessment, a comprehensive 225 page document, did not say there was any need for rate increases for residential treatment centers and other institutions. And it did not call for massive increases in child abuse investigator / foster care caseworker hiring. (In fact, on page 56, there is a chart that raises questions about whether caseloads really are excessive.)

The settlement requires DHS to spend only $4 million on some of all of the needs that have been assessed as genuinely needed.

The independent court monitor has recommended three categories of spending for this $4 million.

The process will be repeated next year.

But compared to what Ahmed already has cut and plans to cut next year, we're talking about three tiny drops in a very large bucket.