Human services are vital components of our larger human community. Whether it is religiously based or governmentally based, human services provide vital supports for people who have a wide range of needs.
With the increase of natural disasters, a changing economy, greater incidents of violence and drug abuse, the need for greater access to a variety of human services has intensified.
Unfortunately, while politicians sing the praises of human service providers, funds for these vital services have been cut to a dangerous level. Thus, some agencies have been rendered incompetent to provide services.
Little is addressed in the media about this reckless approach to human services because most human services deal with the poor and the "needy," who are genuinely the "voiceless among us."
They usually are not registered to vote because they have no fixed address. Survival is their full time occupation.
President Bush, after his first election, created the office of Faith Based & Community Initiatives to encourage the larger religious community to assume greater responsibility for service to the poor and needy. He tried to convince us that the not-for-profit religious community could do human services for the poor competently and comprehensively.
The first meeting of people interested in Faith Based & Community Initiatives was convened in Washington, D.C. in the early spring of the President's first term. I was asked by our Congressman at the time to attend that gathering. I did and was very disappointed in what I found.
I felt then, as I do now, that this office was established to free the government from any accountability for the poor and shift most of the responsibility to the religious community.
While that concept has some merit, there are too many other variables that render the office ineffective.
For over twenty-five years I have refused government money in relationship to helping young people and adults in need because I believe the government's formula for assistance sets people up for failure.
The Office of Faith Based & Community Initiatives has definitely affirmed the positive contribution that religious social welfare programs have made to our larger community.
However, to give taxpayers' money to religious groups that provide vital human services to people in need, but do not have trained people providing these services is a risky enterprise.
A partnership with government has some potential, as long as professional competence is not suspended or compromised. Fanaticism has no place in the helping equation.
Presently in our county, our leadership is quietly but clearly stripping all human services to the bare bone. Many entities are already unable to adequately provide the services that are mandated by law.
The professionals that have committed themselves to public and human service are heavily burdened and are being burnt out in record numbers. As people retire, their positions are not being filled. Caseloads are dangerously high, making it impossible to service people adequately.
New legislation regarding troubled youth and Family Court was enacted in April for all of New York State. There is no clear plan for enacting this new legislation.
The old systems that had been in place, as inadequate as they might have been, served a purpose and did help countless families with troubled teenagers.
The new system, although it sounds reasonable on paper, potentially is going to be a disaster. To implement it will cost money. This county does not wish to spend money.
The issues of troubled teenagers are not lessening. Our resources are dwindling. The way government is handling things, some very competent and effective not-for-profit agencies are being forced out of business because contracts are not being renewed. The system is hiding behind a rhetoric that is not "tried and true."
Contrary to what the county government says, teenage violence is up, bullying is increasing, property damage committed by middle school and high school students is on the rise as is cutting and truancy. Officially these concerns may not be confirmed, but if you talk to local school social workers and mental health professionals, they will.
As November elections approach, we need to challenge our candidates about what they know and where they stand relative to human services, especially as it relates to our children.
My fear, based on twenty-seven years of providing human services in our county, is that we are especially setting families with teenagers up for failure.
The alleged new system that no one is really sure how it will work has no "real teeth" in it to support parents in their attempt to keep their children on track. The partnership of yesteryear seems gone.
The new proposal runs the risk of too many salvageable troubled teens falling into the cracks.
Counseling and support services cost money. If competent people are to provide them and they have the appropriate credentials, they are costly as well.
Cutting corners and hiding behind rhetoric might look good on paper, but if ultimately unchallenged will be lethal for a growing number of parents and children.