I think there is a lot of opportunity to be had in a financial crisis! There’s a mandate to change that comes from having absolutely no good choices – that “necessity is the Mother of invention” thing. And, heaven help us, there’s plenty of reason to make changes in the foster care system. That is the point of this blog. BUT…is it a good idea to transfer all child welfare services into the hands of private contractors? That is what is being proposed in the State of Washington.
I have to say that I don’t think it is.
It’s not that I think private contractors are evil. Just the opposite. I personally think that private commerce brought democracy and along with it, the principals of social justice to most of the world. And I don’t think that the people running private social service agencies are evil. They aren’t.
Well, at least I know I’m not. And I feel pretty confident that all but two of the folks I’ve met so far who are running other private agencies are good people. And those two rotten eggs might have just been good eggs who were having a series of really bad days. Really, really bad days.
So, why not? It’s not that I think that private contractors in Washington are incompetent. They aren’t. The private contractors that provide child welfare services in Washington exist because they have a niche to fill. For the past 50 years or so, they have been regulated and licensed by the state. They are nonprofits with a mission to meet the needs of children in their care. The people that work there are the same people that work at the state – in fact, it’s a constant waltz from private agency to public service and back again for most of them over the life of their careers.
It’s not about the money, either. Small nonprofits ride the edge of sustainability as closely as small business. The large ones took the same hits that large corporations did in losses when the stockmarket fell. (Most large nonprofits live off the earnings from fat stock portfolios acquired by donations compiled over time or left to them by dead rich people – they lost 30 to 50 percent of their value last year.)
The people that run nonprofits aren’t out to get rich. Nonprofit execs aren’t getting rich and they never will. At least not in terms of pots of personal cash. They get paid for what they do, some of them even get compensated well. But, like the organizations they run, they count their riches based on the double bottom line. It is the good they do that makes the work a good way to spend their days. Of course I feel this way. Okay, you can doubt my credibility, since I acknowledge that I am one of these people.
So, if I don’t hate the nonprofit sector, and I think that the state should take the opportunity of necessity to invent new ways to do things AND (as you know from my prior posts) I think the state isn’t living up to the bargain reached in the Braam lawsuit, why then do I think the state should stay in the game?
I think that for the same reason I make my supervisors take an occassional shift on the line. It’s way too easy to throw rocks at people for doing what you yourself could not do. Also, when the state takes on a pure oversight role, the number of people needed to oversee gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger! That’s why there are 3 (or is it 5) administrators for every teacher in the classroom. On top of that, I can see the priority of the people in charge of seeking pots of money shifting to asking more to cover the cost of oversight, instead of the cost of care. Not to mention that people will stop moving between providing care from the perspective of the state-regulated to providing care from the perspective of the state. That means less BS detectors at the state level.
The true issue I have with this proposal is that it doesn’t solve ANY of the three problems I’ve identified with Foster Care. It doesn’t guarantee more placements for the kids – unless, of course we go back to group homes, and then it solves the problem while simultaneously increasing the damage caused TO children BY foster care. And, the suggestion that people can do in a private setting what they can’t do in a public one just because one is a state agency and one is a nonprofit agency is glaringly absurd.
If this is about us adopting standards for care, then by all means we should do that! But we adopted standards for the state and the state was not able to implement them. Now the state says that the same people can work in private agencies and get the job done, for less money? For more money? For the same money? Well, it’s not about the money, is it?
Perhaps it is cynical, but I don’t think it will turn out well in the long run to have the state step into a police role exclusively and leave the work of caring to organizations who have no control over how much money the state decides to spend on the caring.
But maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?