Protecting Children. Is DCFS Allowed to Strike?
The Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), the official name of child protective services/social services here in Los Angeles County, was on a week-long strike over horrendous caseloads, low pay, and terrible schedules. To put this in context, Los Angeles County received almost 17,000 reports of threats to children’s safety (abuse, neglect, etc.) in the month of October alone. Personally, I went to a high school with 2,000 kids, which leads me to estimate my hometown had about 6,000 kids total. So there were almost three times as many DCFS reports made as kids in my entire hometown. CRAZY. To carry on, in addition to new reports made, DCFS was providing services to about 37,000 children for family maintenance, foster care, adoption, etc. AGAIN, a ton of kids. There are 1,035 DCFS social workers who actively manage cases (basically people who aren’t in management or supervisory roles) and 683 of them work with 31 children or more. By simple math alone, with that many social workers, each would have to work with at least 35 kids at a time. As a budding therapist at a community mental health center, I work with 4 kids at a time and somehow feel like I’m constantly running around trying to make sure I’m prepared to help them. 35 > 4. To put that in perspective, imagine you’re a grandmother, uncle, or caring neighbor of a 6-year old boy named Johnny. Johnny loves to play kickball with the other kids in the neighborhood. He is really bright and likes to tell you all about how the sun makes plants grow and how Abraham Lincoln was a real American hero. After a while, you begin noticing that Johnny’s always wearing the two same, stained and wrinkled outfits. He’s always been kinda skinny, but seems to be losing more weight. You hear Johnny’s parents screaming at each other a lot, even over the sound of their extremely loud TV. More often than not, there’s a bunch of strange shady-looking people coming and going from Johnny’s house. Still, Johnny loves to give you hugs and talk to you about all the exciting things he’s constantly discovering. You’re concerned. You call the DCFS child abuse and neglect hotline and make a report to help keep Johnny safe. While they understand your concern, they say it’s going to be a while before they can come do an investigation. Time goes by, Johnny’s still smiling, but now definitely noticeably scrawnier than the other kids in the neighborhood and the yelling at his house is near constant. You made the report, so what more can you do?
In the face of the DCFS strike just last week, some families have argued that they’ve had increased difficulties and delays for things such as custody hearings. Other people have said that they don’t believe people whose job it is to help keep children safe should walk off their jobs and strike. Is it better to keep driving a car when one of the wheels is broken just so you can keep heading to your destination or bring it to a repair shop to get it fixed so you’ll have a smoother, safer ride later? While a world where parents are truly capable and willing to look out for the well-being of their children would be wonderful, right now, we need capable, caring, passionate, and unstressed social workers looking out for the kids whose parents can’t. You wouldn’t want a surgeon who’s overtired, constantly bustling from patient-to-patient doing your heart surgery. Why should we allow that for the well-being of our children?
Now, the strike is over since the social workers union was able to reach a deal with DCFS to hire more social workers to lighten caseloads, but it’s a shame that it had to get this far in the first place.
An important note – DCFS kept the child abuse reporting hotline open, relying on other workers to step in to keep taking calls to keep children safe.
Obviously my opinions are my opinions, but what do you think?
Read more about the strike from these sources.