Children are supposed to be our national treasure. However, it is becoming clearer that not only are they not our national treasure, they are not even a major priority.
The growing incidents of neglect and abuse underscore that we are not caring for our children appropriately. Raising children, no matter what your socio-economic circumstance, is a full time job. More and more children have special needs that demand additional and specialized care.
Unfortunately, locally and nationally, we seem ill equipped to manage the growing needs of our children effectively and safely. The recent expos on the care of our children in the bi-county community was shocking and deeply disturbing.
No one expects a child and/or a teenager entrusted to a respectable institution with a good reputation to be at risk. We take for granted that our children will be safe from adult abuse of any kind and that they will be safe and protected from hurting themselves.
The disturbing revelations exposed this past month raise serious concerns whether our children are safe when entrusted to the system. Who is responsible? What kind of accountability is really in place?
We know that a lot of tax dollars are being used to place children in need and at risk in residential centers, both locally and out of the area. If we were to look more carefully at how our money is being spent, we would discover how much waste and misappropriation of funding there is.
The fact that eighty percent of children placed in residential settings are recidivists is alarming. What are we doing for and with our children? Are these residential settings merely warehouses for underdeveloped human potential? Are we then expensively contributing to the wasteland of human potential that is infecting our larger community?
The bottom line is that we are spending an inordinate amount of money to help troubled kids with little or no positive results. Why?
Depending on who you talk to you will get a wide range of answers. Clearly we do not know how to treat children at risk with special needs. From the beginning, our assessments tend to be incomplete. Those that are well done and comprehensive make recommendations for treatment that oftentimes fall on deaf ears. Whether it is the school system, the family court system or the criminal justice system, the focus is never the child, but rather the cost factor. Thus, a child is placed or not placed based on finances instead of need. Few will own that truth, but it is a fact and a scandalous one.
We are blinded by the money spent to care for a child in treatment and the monies spent are mind boggling. However, that part of the story is incomplete. We are concerned that our children are at risk when placed in residential settings and we should be! So many institutions have been forced to reduce staff because of budget cuts. Staff ratios to patient care are at dangerous levels.
With all of our technology, we cannot replace human beings with machines. Human presence is expensive. We need appropriate staff in all of our residential settings. Warm bodies are not enough. We need professional men and women trained in some very specialized areas. That training should not be compromised, but it is. Competent, well-educated, well-trained professionals are costly, and they should be.
Scrutinize the personnel patterns in many human service agencies. The pay scales are a disgrace. In many vital areas, the criterion for employment has been reduced because well-educated professionals are not going to work for a pittance.
In agencies that employ child care workers, what are their salaries? What training do they need to work with children at risk? Our state sets the standard and the standard is a disgrace.
In many settings that deal with troubled kids, they talk about their counselors on staff. However, what are their credentials? What training do they have? What supervision is given to protect them and the children in their care? If the truth be told, many residential settings employ counselors who have high school diplomas and are trained by the agencies that employ them. They are supervised by a licensed social worker and/or psychologist who is probably already overburdened.
This kind of staffing is dangerous. It is not meant to be, but it is a reckless attempt at survival. No agency purposefully puts staff and children at risk. Unfortunately, some are forced into a dangerous pattern because of funding and budget cuts.
The whole system needs to be overhauled. If children are our national treasure, then we should act accordingly. A growing number of our kids are at risk and have serious special needs that require very specialized care. Yes, it is costly. However, some of our money could be better spent if we cut the fat and waste from the bureaucracy and urged child care agencies to better staff their programs with more competent professionals. To that end, we need to spend more to get more.
In our own county, it is very disturbing when our children have been placed in settings that have put them at risk. Early retirement incentives have bankrupt an already crippled work force. There is no real hope of replacing them in the future or hiring more staff to do their impossible jobs.
After twenty-five years in human service, it is very troubling for me to see how priorities are misplaced and how our children are mishandled. How many children will have to commit suicide or be abused before we say no more and do something to change the system and the way we care for our national treasure?