Show me the Money: the effects of child protective services running on empty

I know- it is an intense topic. But I’ve worked the field and I’ve seen the reality of a program that is struggling to survive on pennies and dimes, with the workers trying desperately to make up for its financial short comings.

Almost any job has the potential to be stressful, there can be an unpredictability or a moment of uncertainty in any field. Of course there are extremes in some career positions more than others, one being social work (for obvious reasons). 

Unfortunately, a large portion of this stress originates from unrealistic case loads (upwards of double or triple the state recommended loads) and the government not allotting enough resources even though it is direly needed, and workers have an average 2 year employment rate in some offices.

The National Child Abuse Coalition has claimed the following on their website:

“With federal support, Child Protection Services can protect children from domestic abuse. The abuse of children in the home remains a serious public health problem in the United States. Unfortunately, funding does not match the need, and CPS case workers with enormous caseloads cannot make good decisions” (2012).

That is a scary sentence. That was also five years ago, and it appears that there hasn’t been much change since.

The National Child Abuse Coalition reported that current spending for CPS and preventative services falls short of the dollars invested in supporting the placement of children in foster care and adoptive families. For every dollar spent by the federal government, just 14 cents are spent on both prevention and protective services (2012).

The same website claimed that CAPTA (Child Abuse and Prevention Act) should be the main source for funding for state grants, but it is not. Right now, they allot $27 million, which is not up to addressing the scope of the need. The National Child Abuse Coalition believes that an annual authorized funding level of $500 million is a realistic approach for funding CPS (2012). Do the math: that is a difference of $473 million dollars. Yet, somehow, the agency is running on a drastically reduced number. How is this possible? Through paying social workers low wages and assigning high caseloads. Somewhere, they have to reduce funds and that is where it falls. The question is, what is the fallout from the lack of funding? And where is the money going?

An analysis of cases by Dallas Morning News showed that hundreds of potentially endangered children did not receive a timely visit from a CPS worker. They found that one in every 5 open cases, children were not being seen at all. The article stated,

“Problems with CPS’ dysfunctional system are not new: A shortage of caseworkers means high caseloads, and the pay is so low that caseworkers quit in droves, leaving hundreds of unfilled positions, plus extra time it takes to train new hires” (CPS Needs Emergency Money, 2016).

We know that more money is needed, but the question is where from, and are people willing to front the bill?

Per the Committee on Child Maltreatment Research, Policy, and Practice for the Next Decade, CAPTA’s grant community supports a wide range of activities involving CPS. However, to achieve CAPTA funding to support CPS, states must comply with congressionally mandated eligibility conditions. As of 2014, of these 20 requirements there has been little to no investment in studying how these requirements are best implemented (2014). Essentially, they have requirements that are not being met, funding isn’t being dispersed, and they do not know if the requirements are what they should be.

When I was a foster parent trainer for CPS, we discussed how only two states have met federal requirements to receive the total funding during the recent national audit, one being my state. If a state doesn’t meet certain criteria, they lose funding. For instance, children should not be in the system, according to federal mandates (and the subsequent funding) for more than two years. This is a positive goal, of course, we want children to have permanency whether it be with the rehabilitated biological parents or adopted by a foster parent. However, on average, children stay in the system for almost 31 months before being reunited or adopted. Almost 20% wait five years or more (ABC News, 2006). In the last few years, statistics haven’t changed. With these cases, the state loses millions of dollars. There are so few workers, that reports are almost impossible to complete in a timely manner. Not only that, but on a national level there are not enough foster parents to fulfill the need of children coming in. It’s a viscous cycle. Most of the issues come down to funding: the more money we put into the system, the faster children would be adopted, the faster children would be seen by a worker, therefore saving the state thousands of dollars.

It begins with money, which is exceptionally frustrating, yet social workers become the target for many of the issues with CPS. This is why I feel that the government is essentially forcing the problem, they are negligent in the amount of money allotted to CPS and it is failing. The entire program needs emergent help in the way of dollar signs and government support, but where do we start?


Till the End: the psychology and joys of long term friendships

We were driving down highway N59 in Connemara National Park, Ireland. We had decided before the flight that we were going to purchase a cell phone at the airport, this was a few years back and using ours would have raked up a shit ton of fees.

I want to say we couldn’t find one, but it’s quite possible we got distracted by all of the deep sexy accents waiting to board their flights.

So, onward we drove. Our jaws dropped when we looked to our right and Kylemore Abbey appeared behind a mystical hazy fog. We had no idea it was there, parked the car and ran over to gawk.

Nuns know what’s up

Then we got back to our little rental car, popped it in drive and a light started flashing. which is exactly what you want to happen when you’re driving down a backroad in a foreign country without a cellphone.

The car started feeling weird. We stopped the car and grabbed the manual, thanking the good Lord it wasn’t written in Gaelic. Annnnnd nothing. As I’ve written before, I have anxiety and this would have been the perfect time to freak the fuck out. But I was with one of my closest friends (friends for 15 years) and for some reason we were laughing? We kept reading, trying to troubleshoot. Finally we realized, the emergency break was on.

This is where you insert a big ol’ SMH. The moral of the story is not remembering to disengage your e-break if you want to drive more than 14 feet, I mean that’s helpful, but more the feelings behind the situation.

Why weren’t we freaking out? I mean, we probably were a little, but it seemed like since we were together, there was nothing we couldn’t just figure out somehow. Call that stupid but at least I didn’t get a panic attack.

So, friendships are obviously important, but there seems to be something extra magical about close friends you’ve known for a long period of time. I feel that the presence of a friend of that stature can calm you down, lower your heart rate and is somehow holistically therapeutic. Suddenly something that seemed so serious isn’t so bad. Research is somewhat scant on the matter, but a few professionals have weighed in:

Psychologist Dr.Levine noted that people who have longstanding friendships are flexible and forgiving, realizing that no person or relationship is perfect.

Psychologist Laura Cartensen developed a theory explaining how people seek two functions out of their favorite relationships: informational and affective. If you want to know where to buy the best roses, you’ll seek out the friend that has knowledge on flowers. The affective discusses how people choose to be near those who make them feel good.

Behavioral scientists explained the science behind close friendships, stating that “it involves a long-lasting bond of sacrifice and shared moments“.

Its like the time my close friend and her mother brought bagels many mornings to the hospital when my dad was in the hospital, and how we’ve cried on the phone with each other repeatedly about who knows what.

Or the time my friend was getting ready for a first date, put on her cutest lacey dress, then proceeded to have a full body allergic reaction to a pear. She called me and I obviously dropped everything, drove 5,000 mph (give or take like, 10 mph) to get her ass and take her to the nearest totally not in her insurance network hospital, explaining to the doctors that she didn’t just have a sunburn and this was for reals and for god sake TAKE US BACK.

That same friend was with me in Carlsbad Caverns, knowing I have anxiety and was subtly (totally just making up shit, like, wow here’s a fun fact about 1902 and rocks) distracting me, avoiding a full blown panic attack on my end after looking up to the little hole that is the earths crust.

Freaky shit

It’s also safe to say my husband is one of my best friends. I can come home from work in any number of states and he doesn’t judge, he listens.

So, in looking at my close friendships (I’m extremely grateful to have many wonderful women and men in my life), I thought about what does make them unique:

They listen, we have mutual trust, if one of us does something for the other, it’s not like we keep tabs or tallies on who owes who what.

We have a rich history (like growing up together and knowing WAY to much about each others families, or running across a major intersection dodging cars for a cup of coffee we’d later blow up in a microwave, or making cat sweaters after just meeting each other), and more importantly, we don’t judge each other (like pretending we’re in a band together) And we can tell each other things that are WAY TMI (you know who you are).

We also give advice at 3am but can also shot gun a beer together if needed (like that’s ever needed. A girl can dream). It’s about flexibility and accommodation, like how I moved 500 miles away and my friend just left after 4 days of just hanging out. Or working together for years as social workers during the day and two-stepping the stress off at night.

It’s about sharing life’s milestones. Like how my close friend and I both got married around the same time and can discuss the scary and wonderful aspect of having babies and camping with our crazy families and discovering the weird terminology on pregnancy blogs (and becoming knowledgeable on the magic of cervical mucus?)

So, shout out to all the women and men out there supporting and loving one other. Life can get crazy, but our timeless friendships help make it a little easier.

What do you think makes a long term relationship oh so exceptional?

Let’s Gogh…Creative Genius and Mental Health

Guys, I did some research.

I’ve been utterly fascinated with this idea for some time, this connection between mental health disorders and the creative mind. Even Aristoteles said, “there is no genius without having a touch of madness”. Working and completing coursework in the field of mental health has led me down this road of thought many, many times, so I thought it was about time to answer my own damn question. And there’s a shit ton of evidence backing it up.

I started looking into it more the other day after I had this creative surge, sat down, sketched for literally 5 hours straight (to the point where my eyes were getting kinda jacked up) then wrote a bunch.

The following morning I was in good spirits but was very restless. I had anxiety minus the mental stuff, if that makes any sense. All physical and couldn’t sit still. Anyways, I got to thinking. Was my creative surge linked to these symptoms? Or just a happy coincidence? (And for the record, I’m not considering myself a creative genius by any means).

So I got to looking it up. Here’s a few shining examples of creative minds with mental health disorders (some are recently diagnosed based on what we now know):

  • Michelangelo: OCD (some argue autism)
  • Kurt Cobain: ADD, bi-polar
  • Pablo Picasso- depression
  • Virginia Woolf: depression
  • Isaac Newton: bi-polar disorder
  • Walt Disney: dyslexia
  • Beethoven: bi-polar disorder
  • Steve Jobs: OCPD
  • Edgar Allan Poe: alcoholism, depression
  • Abraham Lincoln: depression and anxiety attacks
  • Vivian Leigh: depression and mania
  • Vincent van Gogh: bi-polar disorder
  • JK Rowling: depression
  • Winston Churchill: bi-polar disorder, dyslexia
  • Albert Einstein: dyslexia

And the list goes on. Surprisingly, many creative geniuses had dyslexia and or bi-polar disorder. Is there some chemical, some process, linking these disorders and their tortured genius?

A study from 2010 found similarities between the brains in healthy, highly creative people and those with schizophrenia. The same authors discussed an association with dopamine (the pleasure and reward neurotransmitter) and creativity. Dopamine is brought up a lot in regards to mental health. Seems it can be a real bitch, but the exact connection is still a mystery. It’s a good start, however.

Another study looked at the genes of 86,000 people in Iceland and found a 17% increase in mental health disorders among artists (dancers, painters etc.), particularly schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder.

A somewhat different take came from the 1960’s, when scientists believed the link was openness. Writers, after testing them, scored high in this area. They feel that it’s possible creative people “engage with the full spectrum of life, both the dark and the light”.

And lastly, a study composed of more than one million people was conducted through the Karolinska Institute. In this study they found a number of correlations between creative occupations and mental health.

Then there is the question of defining genius, or defining creativity. Each study had its scale and parameters to go by, but some may disagree with that interpretation. The manual that formalizes diagnosis (currently the DSM V) changes every edition (about every 10 ish years) and the way we define mental health can vary (for fuck sake homosexuality used to be in there…).

The research is out there linking disorders of the mind and creativity, but the exact mechanism seems somewhat unknown. And of course, you can have one without the other, so what biological instrument is at work? It definitely raises some questions…Do you think medication, which can possibly help disorders, could hamper creativity? Is it a chemical association or is the creativity perhaps a way of coping with the illness?

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The Ambush and the Intangible: Life with Anxiety

I’ve read the sorted words and descriptors: how can we explain what anxiety is like? Somehow defining the word gives us power, it lets us get a grip on something that isn’t tangible, yet changes the entire way we perceive our environment. I was reading an excerpt yesterday and the word ambush popped up. Innocent enough. (I mean, you know what I mean). Until… My eyes widened and I had that light bulb moment. Fucking anxiety. It’s an ambush in so many ways, at least for me.

Let me be that person who defines a word at the beginning of a paper to sound oh so astute and flaunty. No but really. Ambush: “an act or instance of attacking unexpectedly from a concealed position.” It waits, it lurks in the dark and pounces when you least expect it. And letting your guard down can get tricky.

Which is exactly what I continuously do. At least to some degree. I mean, you have to live your life without constantly checking every dark corner for the possibility of an anxiety ambush. But this goes both ways. If you are constantly on alert, you have your binoculars ready and are prepared if you see it, but you live your life in the trenches. If you run through the battle field unawares, you can get stormed. And getting stormed is terrifying. There is something worse about an anxiety attack coming when you least expect it, even if you have experienced a thousand in your life. It’s as if the anxiety you know and love has somehow betrayed you. It was an ambush and how dare it.

And that’s what happened to me last week. I was having a good day. Which means, of course, not waking up with the fear of the world resting so nicely on your super-stiff-there’s-no-massage-in-the-world-that-will-subdue-the-pain-shoulders. Let me also give some backstory.

I am semi-lucky in that a few years into my panic attacks I noted a correlation with caffeine. A few weeks after going cold turkey my panic attacks subsided and I was left with the low and omnipresent background hum of GAD. I feel that when I’m off caffeine my GAD is mild to moderate, unless I am triggered then it’s full on obsessive thinking for the win.

Anyways, I let my guard down. Which means I didn’t live my life to the perfect standards my anxiety wanted me to. Personally, my anxiety centers around ethical perfectionism in my daily life (which also took some time to become cognizant of), among a few other seemingly random parameters. Every decision, every conversation, has the opportunity of becoming a trigger, small or large. That’s exhausting and for-the-love I just wanted a respite. I’m in a field of work which lends itself to anxiety, or my type anyway, and I did something fairly normal that I am sure no one else would blink an eye at, well, because, I did what anyone else basically would.

Key word: fairly. The obsessive thinking begins, you try and talk yourself down. But it’s too late, the ambush has arrived. Your heart rate increases and you wonder why you left the house to begin with. The entire day feels instantly different, it’s a shade darker. I glanced at my heart rate displayed so glowingly on my watch face (which, for a person with anxiety is a horrible idea, but I can’t stop) and it read 132. I was just standing there, and after reading that number you can bet your ass my anxiety didn’t improve. Ambush number two. I had to stand in a room with about eight other people and I was seriously afraid of passing out. It got hot. I had a mask on, the warm air I exhaled drifted up and heated my face, fogging my glasses. I attempted to distract myself by asking the person next to me questions that didn’t really matter…Good gosh it was a recipe for disaster. To my benefit, the situation shifted and we left the room. I was able to splash some water on my face and take a breath. Dodged that bullet.

This isn’t the type of article to be like, and this is what I did to make it all stop! Unfortunately. But there is something to be said about knowing the intangible is sneaking up on you, knowing an ambush is on its way. There’s something to be said about reading others stories, relating and feeling like you aren’t the only one under this cloud. We can lift each other up and make it alright to talk about mental health and the fact that anxiety isn’t just “being kind of nervous”, it’s real no matter how intangible it is. The good thing about an ambush, in a way, is that because it is hiding it can be found. And if it can be found, it can be faced.