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Block Welfare Reform!

May 8, 2011 permalink

Unions in Washington are seeking to halt privatization of parts of their state's child welfare system.

In efforts to reform child welfare, the unions are one of the biggest obstacles. As the system is structured now, child protection agencies get funding proportional to the number of foster children, making kids their meal ticket. If the funding stream was ever reformed, for example relying only on private charity, foster children would become a financial burden to the decision makers. The number of foster children would soon be sharply reduced, leading to layoffs of case workers. Without useful skills, their $80,000 salaries would vanish, replaced by the wages of a waitress or taxi driver. Social services has availed itself of one of the means by which despots remain in power: pay high salaries to poorly skilled soldiers and police, giving them a financial incentive to keep the despot in power.

The proposed reforms in Washington fall far short of anything that would lead to layoffs, but the union is acting preemptively to avert real reforms later.



State workers union sues DSHS, claims ‘effort to privatize child welfare’

The largest union representing Washington state workers has filed a lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court seeking to stop the Department of Social and Health Services from privatizing child welfare.

DSHS maintains it is merely implementing a law that requires the department’s Children’s Administration to consolidate its numerous state contracts based on performance standards and measurable outcomes.

In 2009, the Legislature enacted House Bill 2106, mandating increased accountability in the state child welfare system.

The law has two parts: It requires the department to convert its roughly 1,600 child and family services contracts into performance-based contracts. Secondly, it calls for a pilot project to be completed and evaluated by 2015 to determine whether child welfare is best handled by state or private agencies.

In its lawsuit filed Thursday, the Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents about 40,000 state workers, including at DSHS, claims that the way the department is consolidating contracts is rendering the pilot project irrelevant.

In its request for proposals from private contractors, the state has called for “a lead agency model” for delivery of child welfare services.

The union says this exceeds the law’s mandate by seeking proposals for contracts from private organizations to perform functions now done by state case managers represented by WFSE, who would be displaced.

“We have identified the elements in the request for proposal that are very clearly case management that they are contracting out prematurely,” said Jeanine Livingston, WFSE contract compliance manager. “This is a very clear effort to privatize child welfare.”

Because union employees have not been allowed to compete for these contracts, the lawsuit said, “DSHS has refused to bargain in good faith with the WFSE.”

Last month, the union filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the Public Employment Relations Commission over the same complaints alleged in the lawsuit.

Children’s Administration spokeswoman Sherry Hill said she could not comment on the lawsuit, but said the agency is complying with requirements of the new law.

“We are consolidating and converting existing contracts,” Hill said.

The lawsuit asks the court to enjoin the state from contracting out case management services during the litigation and until the unfair labor practices complaint is decided.

Source: Seattle Spokesman-Review