State government unraveling?

Sharon Parks

State government is unraveling.  At least that was my impression after reading the subscriber-only Gongwer News Service report from Friday.  The newsletter included an extensive piece about Michigan’s progress under a court settlement related to foster care.

According to the article, the most recent official report on the lawsuit settlement stated, “thousands of children continue to linger in care without permanent families; too many youth continue to age out of care without health care or a permanent home; and too many children remain in unlicensed relative homes.”

The report said the Department of Human Services did not have enough staff to meet the caseload ratio standards required in the 2008 settlement.

A veteran child protective services worker told Gongwer that workers are “so stressed they regularly have breakdowns and you find them crying in the bathroom.”  Low job satisfaction has resulted in increased leaves for stress and higher turnover rates, which were already high prior to the lawsuit.

The Granholm administration has attempted to address this problem by recommending the restoration of 197 staff positions cut last year, the addition of 500 new staff and retaining the temporary staff brought in to help meet the requirements of the lawsuit.  Unfortunately the Department of Human Services Senate Appropriations Subcommittee is only willing to commit to 151 new child protective services workers.

Foster care is not the only area in which the Department of Human Services is not keeping up.  Another article in the same Gongwer issue notes that the average eligibility specialist carries a caseload of 700, again leading to burnout and frustration on the part of workers and clients.  Safety in local DHS office continues to be a concern yet DHS officials, according to Gongwer, say staffing increases are not likely since funds for staffing are stagnant.

There’s more…..A third article reports that financial audits released by the Auditor General show that several departments need to improve their internal controls to ensure they are correctly monitoring spending.  The Department of Natural Resources needs to properly account for and process reservation fees from state parks and forests.  The Department of Education was urged to take steps to protect its security and financial data, and to periodically monitor its internal controls over financial issues.  The State Police was urged to improve its internal controls over payroll processing.

These three articles all point to an increasingly common theme throughout state government—not enough workers to do the work, at least not in a way that ensures safety and well-being, as well as accountability for public tax dollars.

Just something to think about as another state retirement plan is discussed and candidates on the campaign trail promise smaller government.

— Sharon Parks

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