ARLENE VIOLET - Funding DCYF is life and death matter

ARLENE VIOLET - Funding DCYF is life and death matter

The state’s Child Advocate has released a series of reports over the last two years documenting 11 child fatalities and six near-fatalities due to abuse and neglect. Apparently, there are 14 additional cases of child fatalities or near-fatalities that are under review and that have yet to be released in a report. While rhetoric abounds about how important children are and how they have to be protected, the General Assembly has actually reduced funding for community-based programs.

In order to gain a perspective, I turned to Mike Reis, a Christian brother, who founded Tide Family Services 35 years ago. This agency has as its motto that it will never give up on a kid – never! He is extremely well versed in what it takes to help children out of the chaos far too many of them face. His program has had great success. He is now a lobbyist and recently testified again in front of the Senate Committee on Finance. He insisted that funds must be restored to the R.I. Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). The funds are so inadequate now that children are dying and their very lives are at risk.

Brother Michael first points to the need for a robust array of community-based services to provide needed support for families. When a child is at risk, not only should the child be in a safe and nurturing environment, but also counseling, child-rearing skills, and other services are necessary for the family to welcome back the child removed from the home. Community behavioral health services is a critical component. These families are oftentimes living in poverty, dealing with food and housing insecurity, and have had high rates of trauma and a lack of a stable caregiver.

Monitoring the transition is also crucial. Service providers have to be coordinated among themselves in order to provide a continuum of services for the child and family. Brother Michael also noted in his testimony before the Senate committee that there is a cost to hiring a skilled workforce that is able to intervene effectively with high-risk families. A team approach, therefore, is necessary with the service provider(s) in the community working hand and hand with skilled social workers employed by DCYF.

The bottom line is that DCYF needs to be properly funded. Staffers and the community-based programs supported by DCYF are tasked with the job of caring for Rhode Island’s most vulnerable children. Legislators have to put their money where their mouths are.

Priorities have to shift. Too much money is spent on Smith Hill for self-dealing with political lackeys getting jobs, and pet projects being funded with legislators presenting checks to organizations in order to assist their reelection. A thorough review of tax breaks for large corporations needs re-evaluation. How likely, for example, is it that General Dynamics would move out of Quonset Point after its construction investment to date? The many millions of dollars should be redirected and put to work to save children.

Anyone who reads this article and who considers himself/herself a pro-life voter should take this opportunity to be pro-life for these vulnerable children and call your legislator to insist on more community-based funding and attendant services.

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.