Bureaucracy to the rescue

It’s a story languishing in the shade of Governor Shumlin’s single-payer surrender, but on Thursday the Department for Children and Families released a third report on its effectiveness. This report pretty much echoed the first two, as VTDigger’s Laura Krantz reports:

The new report grouped its findings into five categories. The key items include better training, more social workers, more transparency and a stronger focus on opiate addiction’s impact on family dynamics.

DCF head Ken Schatz said the similar conclusions of the three reports was an affirmation that “We have a good road map now to go forward.”

Well, that’s nice, but is that sufficient justification for three separate reports plus a legislative review that’s still pending? How much money did we spend on all this investigation? Why didn’t we just commission one really good and thorough report instead of a bunch? Were DCF investigations on sale at Costco?

Beyond that, two things in Krantz’ account jumped out at me. First was the fact that the DCF news conference was “attended by only three reporters.”

That’s sad, and bad. DCF was one of the year’s highest-profile issues in state government. And, to be callous about it, the story was more clickbaity than most because it involved the deaths of two toddlers. Also, the presser was held not in Montpelier, but in Williston — a hop and a skip away for Burlington-based media outlets. Like the Free Press, which I’ve been told was not in attendance. (So far, its website does not provide any coverage of the event.)

If true, that’s pretty shameful, especially for a media outlet that has beaten the drum for greater transparency at DCF. They want transparency, but they’re not going to advance the cause by, oh, sending a reporter to a significant event. Nice.

The other thing that jumped out at me was this. The “road map” that Schatz referred to included a call for “more front-line workers [and] lower case loads.”

In response, Schatz and his boss, interim Human Services Secretary Harry Chen announced that DCF would hire ten more staffers.

Social workers, right? New troops to bring down the case loads, yes?

Er, no.

They include five management positions in the economic services division, two assistant attorneys general to help district offices with child protection cases and the family services division: an assistant district director in St. Albans, a assistant for the centralized call intake unit and a policy specialist.

By my count, that’s six middle management types, two prosecutors to help with cases that have gotten so far out of hand they’re headed for the courts, and two other functionaries, neither of which are on the front lines.

Bureaucracy to the rescue! Our troops are having trouble in the trenches, but never fear — we’re beefing up the staff at headquarters.

Maybe there are excellent reasons for these particular hires, but at a time when AHS is under heavy pressure to make deep cuts, it kinda leaves me scratching my head a little.

Speaking of tight budgets, you might wonder where they’re getting the money for these positions. The not entirely convincing answer is “through anticipated savings from the state’s Reach Up program, which helps poor families.”

Hmm. At the presser, DCF officials released some downright scary numbers on how their case loads have increased over the past year. And we’ve all been told over and over again that the sluggish economic recovery, with almost all its bounty going to the top one percent, is putting the squeeze on working Vermonters. But they’re confident they can save money on Reach Up?

They’re certainly more knowledgeable than me, but I have trouble seeing it.

5 thoughts on “Bureaucracy to the rescue

  1. cyrusvt

    You’re right on with this one. Although the positions are probably necessary, they will provide little relief to the front lines. Further and perhaps more important, they will have little impact on the safety of VT kids as a whole.

    Sent from my phone, please excuse the brevity.


  2. Robert Maynard

    Hi John,

    Here is someting that you progressives, and we conservatives/libertarians can agree on. The human cost of distant, cold, impersonal bureaucracies is staggering. We particualrly believe that this is the case with government bureaucracies, as they have the rule of law at their disposal to enforce their bureaucratic whims. Keep up the good work and let’s find some common ground in the struggle against impersonal bureaucracies!

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      This is why one of my favorite people in politics is Doug Hoffer. He’s a progressive who really believes that government has an obligation to perform efficiently. You might disagree with his politics, but he gets it: if you advocate for am activist government, you must be prepared to call government to account.

      1. Ted Scatchard, Shelburne.

        This mention of Doug Hoffer and his diligent no nonsense digging and presenting, giving government a way to be effective and efficient brings me in. The cases that have the agency of human services and DCF needing to fix things that are broken should start with a good inventory. The infant killings, the suicides of young persons, the hazing, bullying, harassment, domestic abuse – and that some of these lead to and some are caused by drugs (addiction).
        Remediation of these wrongs will never really work, but DCF must try. If it is possible to bring improvement to our culture, to diminish this inventory, we should try to understand where these things are coming from and make changes if possible. Young people are where the effective change happens, google: ROE research report 2009 to have a look at an effort that has been making changes in areas of social/emotional learning. It entered some schools in D.C. last year, New Mexico this year, has been in Seattle for years, spreading in Canada for more than a decade. (get back to the homepage from the research pdf)
        These program studies, meetings, needs for staff of various descriptions will help with trying to fix the wrongs, but effective changes upstream will efficiently make more things right.

      2. Robert Maynard

        There are a lot of progresives that I like personally, but disagree with politically. I do not know Doug, but did have the opportunity to discuss politics with Jerry Diamondstone once. I really like Jerry. We had a lot of agreement on our analysis of the problems we face, but little agreement on the solutions.

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