So what were some of those “tough choices?”
One included increasing the budget for prisons. Yes, prisons. Apparently, locking people up is preferable to educating them. And if we can lock them up in for-profit prisons, the ones that have a long history of safety issues and are actually more expensive than state-run facilities, well, all the better.
And if the private prisons contribute handsomely to state legislators and the governor, why oh why wouldn’t we conclude this was one “tough choice” that had to be made?
Another “tough choice” included the continuation of tax loopholes that allow upscale spas and other types of high-end services to avoid sales tax while cities, whose funding was also cut by the state, were forced to institute food taxes to keep officers on the street.
Tax reform was barely mentioned in the last legislative session, with the exception of millions of dollars in tax cuts and incentives given to corporations who may or may not actually use them to create jobs. The Governor and state Republican leaders touted that “tough choice” as the biggest accomplishment of the session.
For some reason it wasn’t a “tough choice” for lawmakers to slash even more money from education even though voters had overwhelmingly passed a proposition to increase taxes to support education funding.
Nor was it a “tough choice” to continue to slash money from programs that care for the most defenseless among us: poor and abused children.
For the last several months, the headlines have been littered with cases of innocent children dying at the hands of abusive parents and live-in boyfriends. And the public’s mad. Mad that CPS continues to fail at its most important function, saving kids.
But are we really surprised? We’ve known for a long time that CPS workers, most of whom are highly educated, are also highly underpaid and highly overworked. We’ve known for years that the turnover rate among CPS workers is among the worst in the state.
Do we think that perhaps the market is telling us something? Simple economics would explain that jobs requiring a college degree but paying a wage commensurate to a high school diploma while dealing with highly stressful situations would not lend to successful outcomes. But somehow, our same leaders who love the phrase, “let the market decide,” have decided the market must be wrong.
I have no doubt that the majority of social workers who take on jobs at CPS do so because they believe they can make a real difference in society, protect children and save lives. But I also have no doubt that after months of dealing with dysfunctional families, caseloads more than double what they should be, state laws designed to protect the family vs. the child, and wages far below that of other college educated professionals, these same workers burn out at extraordinarily high levels.
The problem has been documented and ongoing for years, but the state deals with it by making the “tough choices” we’ve come to expect from our legislative leaders. They cut funding.
Then, several cases appear in the news about kids who’ve died after being stuffed in footlockers, slammed into walls and used as punching bags. And the public cries out, “how can this be?” And the head of CPS claims, “changes are coming.”
But the changes don’t happen. Sure, a couple of caseworkers may be fired and a few memos circulated, but none of the major reforms needed to make CPS effective take place.
This week, CPS head Clarence Carter vowed reforms such as reviews by senior management when three or more reports of abuse have been made. He also vowed to change the culture at CPS.
Unfortunately, Mr. Carter failed to mention anything about fixing the excessive number of caseloads burdening workers or addressing the alarmingly high rate of employee turnover or dealing with a state legislature that fails to understand the importance of funding an agency responsible for protecting the lives of children.
When it comes to “tough choices,” our legislators tend to give the most amount of weight to the lobbyists with the deepest pockets. The lobbyists who ensure election success and set the stage for what our lawmakers consider important and untouchable. Things like private prisons and corporate tax giveaways and lawsuits against the federal government.
Yes, it’s logical for us to want a balanced budget that lowers our taxes and cuts government waste. However, it’s also imperative that we understand the consequences of underfunding certain social programs. Social programs designed to protect the most vulnerable among us and give voice to those who have none.
It’s easy to forget these kids. It’s easy to pretend, even when all signs indicate otherwise, that somehow, these kids will be safe. It’s far more difficult to recognize the failure of a program and even tougher to make the choice to fix it, especially when “fixing” requires funding.