‘Intent” is a grand word. It can convey a determination, or it can sound like something while being nothing.
The Legislature this week passed a .2 billion budget that is now before Gov. Jan Brewer. It includes .2 million for child welfare changes and staffing increases.
Most Republican lawmakers refused to fund child welfare at the amount Brewer requested — roughly million — to replace Child Protective Services with a stand-alone department called Child Safety and Family Services that reports directly to the governor.
They want to see the full report, expected in May, from a committee examining Arizona’s child welfare system and making reform recommendations. It’s not an unreasonable position — if there were reasons to believe the facts will spur responsible action (i.e. spending the necessary money) to build a better way to protect Arizona kids.
But this is Arizona, land of child welfare on the cheap.
So the compromise, or cave-in, depending on how you see it, by a few brave Republicans who had held out for better child welfare funding resulted in this trophy: a statement in the budget that “It is the intent of the Legislature to re-examine the budget in conjunction with the legislation that will create a successor agency, in order to meet the needs of that successor agency.”
Intent is good, but meaningless without action and vision to see beyond the immediate.
Case in point: the majority’s refusal to connect the dots between when the Legislature cut child-care assistance to working poor families and when reports of child neglect began to spike. A decade ago more than 27,000 families received child-care subsidies. Today, it’s 7,600.
If a goal is to help families and children, as the Republican majority party states, then we have to do it in a smart way that recognizes a family’s economic reality makes a difference. Thinking that a family shouldn’t rely on anyone else or the government for help doesn’t magically make them financially stable.
It’s not a secret that the investigation team is finding a system groaning under its own weight and an utterly inadequate infrastructure. The team leader gave an update to the Legislature’s CPS oversight subcommittee a few weeks ago.
Each week 2,326 hours of caseload work comes into the state’s child welfare system from new investigations — on top of the visits, investigations, interviews, evaluations, and extensive and laborious paperwork that are already required to attend to existing cases.
One in 4 calls to the state child abuse hotline are abandoned before a report is made, and long wait times are partly to blame.
Of course, people can point to “intend.” Lawmakers can intend to protect children, and then not do what’s necessary to fix the system. They can intend to do what’s right, and then not.
How can you hold anyone accountable for “intend”? It’s the perfect political word. I intend to win the lottery. I intend to get a Ph.D. I intend to learn to square dance.
You can intend your way through life; it’s the bother of actually doing it that’s the problem.
Intentions aren’t going to pay to replace a byzantine and dangerously out-of-date computer system to help, instead of hinder, child welfare investigations.
Intentions can’t keep child welfare workers from becoming overwhelmed with too many cases. They get burned out from the daily grind of working in a job where they can see the worst in people, yes, but they also recognize that sometimes families who would fare well if they only had some help – like in paying for child care — can’t get it.
These are a few of the concrete facts contained in the update. The system needs to be torn down and rebuilt, all while keeping the child welfare functions running. Child safety isn’t something you can just close a few days for remodeling.
But we have to remember, and keep hammering our legislators to understand, that intentions without resources and actions are meaningless.
Email Sarah Garrecht Gassen at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Facebook.
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