EDITORIAL: Don't play politics with kids' lives
- In 2015, 42,000 reported child abuse calls went unanswered statewide.
- A new law meant to protect kids from abuse has created significant strain on child advocacy agencies.
- Legislators must work together to find the root cause of the problem.
- Another budget delay and more infighting isn't the way to address this.
State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s announcement this week that some 42,000 calls – 22 percent of all calls – to the state’s child abuse reporting hotline went unanswered should outrage every one of us.
That’s not to say that there are legislators and government employees who are willfully allowing tens of thousands of all calls to the state’s ChildLine fall through the cracks.
It’s the result of a well-intended law that creates largely unfunded state mandates, leaving state and local agencies scrambling.
Calls to the hotline grew after a law went into effect in 2015 that significantly expanded the categories of adults who must get clearances and undergo criminal background checks before working with children.
In York County, changes to the state’s Child Protective Services Law led to a nearly 86 percent increase in referrals, or 2,237 new cases, for the local Office of Children, Youth & Families, which has struggled to keep up.
In April, the office was issued its third consecutive provisional license by the state Department of Human Services after inspectors found numerous violations.
Offices are allowed four consecutive provisional licenses, meaning York County's Children, Youth & Families has two more chances to correct faults before the state steps in. While the county has taken steps to restructure staffing to improve oversight, it continues to experience a high rate of caseworker turnover.
So many new referrals following the 2015 law means workers are burdened with a caseload that can result in burnout.
“While we, of course, support measures designed to improve child welfare, the new laws resulted in an abrupt, near-doubling in workload, causing some of our staff to either retire or resign in favor of other opportunities,” county spokesman Carl Lindquist told the Dispatch.
That’s why the York County Office of Children, Youth & Families is asking for added state funding for the 2016-17 fiscal year to cover cost of living increases for employees as well as projected cost increases for additional contracted services.
Whether more funding is needed, or the mandates must be revisited to ensure they actually accomplish the protections intended, it’s up to legislators to work with agencies to get this issue resolved.
And they must work together, as well.
Here’s the call to action for lawmakers:
We're coming up on June 30. Don’t let another budget impasse adversely affect agencies including the Office of Children, Youth & Families.
This has nothing to do with what often appears to be a politically-motivated strategy of refusing to compromise.
This is about our children – and the caseworkers charged with protecting them. So please, put aside the partisan bickering and pass a budget that fully funds the agencies that, in some cases, save our children’s lives.