Children services plan for Social Worker Awareness Campaign
by Richard Bermack
The child welfare system is in a state of crisis. There are nowhere near enough social workers to fulfill the mandate of the system, and, as a result, children and families fall through the cracks. Stories of child abuse and the failures of the system are on the front pages of newspapers. Workers have been screaming out that they can't do the job without more help. Workers have demonstrated, gone on strike, and even sued child welfare departments to force them to hire more workers.
The definitive workload study by the California state legislature, authorized by SB 2030, found that the state is not meeting federal guidelines, and that it would take nearly twice as many social workers to satisfy minimal standards and nearly three times as many to do the job according to best practices.
In response to lobbying efforts by the union, last year the state legislature offered counties an extra $40 million, and this year they increased the amount to $132 million to reduce caseloads. Yet the money goes begging. Many county administrators refuse to hire more workers, and even those counties that want to hire more workers can't find the workers to hire. There are not enough social workers available to fill the need.
Responding to the crisis, the Local 535 executive board Children's Services Committee held a retreat on September 8 to consider launching a Social Worker Awareness Campaign similar to that being conducted by the California Teachers Association.
CTA conducted a million-dollar radio and television campaign aimed at passing Proposition 39, a bond measure to increase school funding, and to defeat Proposition 38, the voucher initiative. Their campaign included polling to define their message and forming coalitions with administrators, local PTAs, community activists, and other stakeholders. As a coalition, they went to the editorial boards of news organizations and mobilized their membership to do massive signature gathering campaigns. Finally they launched a very extensive and expensive media campaign involving radio and TV ads and a web site campaign.
They found the issue that resonated with voters was accountability. Their message: California teachers are doing a great job, but
• Schools need more resources.
• California spends less than other states- kids deserve better resources.
• Every child deserves a decent education and a good teacher.
Literature on Child
Welfare Focus Groups
Several organizations have already conducted focus groups to determine the public's perception of child welfare agencies. The results were reported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in its Family to Family, Tools for Rebuilding Foster Care series, Strategic Communications (available at www.aecf.org or by calling 410 547-6600). The following are some of their findings:
• Most people know very little about children's services agencies unless they or a close family member or friend has had some direct experience with the child welfare system.
• People believe that the main mission of the agencies should be to protect children from abuse and neglect when their families are unable or unwilling to do so.
• The public believes that children should be kept in their homes as long as they are safe. People believe strongly that agencies must do a thorough investigation of each case to determine if alleged child abuse and neglect warrant action.
• The most important information to communicate to the general public is the competence of caseworkers.
• Statements about the need for confidentiality will do little to improve public opinion about children's services.
Solution: A Positive Campaign for Change
The Children's Services Committee is launching the following campaign to educate the public and county decision makers.
The Message: Social work is an exciting, worthy profession that can make a real difference in the lives of children, families, and the community.
• Investing money and resources will produce positive outcomes by rebuilding families, helping troubled parents, reclaiming at-risk children so that they can become healthy, functioning members of society, and creating healthy communities by connecting families with community services.
• Good social work saves money by keeping children out of expensive foster care and the criminal justice system.
• Good social work stops the cycle of abuse, saving future generations from ending up in the welfare or child welfare systems.
• Fostering healthy families is everybody's business. It takes a community.
• Something must be done now. Future generations are being compromised. Child abuse and neglect produces anti-social behavior that impacts the entire community.
•The SB 2030 Study documents that without more workers, all this good work can't get done. To be effective, social workers need the resources of time and services.
•Every child deserves a healthy home life, and we need every child to become a fully functioning member of society. Social work can make a difference.
•Become a social worker and help build the future.
• Explain to the public what social workers do and share the excitement of the job.
• Link up and form a united front with other stakeholders to carry the message.
for Reaching County Decision Makers
• Publish a report similar to Protecting Children, Restoring Families, It Takes Time, which was produced in 1998 and used to lobby state legislators to pass SB 2030.
• Create a traveling photo exhibit of social workers and clients interacting, with short stories or text, to be displayed at public places, libraries, county administration buildings, and offices.
• Promote the campaign through use of new technology such as web site and internet promotion.
We Can Make a Difference
The theme of the proposed campaign will be that social work can make a difference, that we can reclaim the lost members of society, if only workers are given the time to spend with their clients.