Aug. 8: Dismantling child welfare

Aug. 8: Dismantling child welfare

One of the fundamental duties of state government is to safeguard vulnerable children - those who suffer from abuse or neglect and need someone to step in on their behalf.

Dismantling child welfare

One of the fundamental duties of state government is to safeguard vulnerable children – those who suffer from abuse or neglect and need someone to step in on their behalf. In recent years Louisiana’s child welfare system has been decimated by budget cuts, resulting in ballooning caseloads and skyrocketing employee turnover. The Advocate’s editorial board has more:

“The child welfare system is in terrible shape, and we’re failing kids,” said Baton Rouge Juvenile Court Judge Adam Haney, a Republican former prosecutor, pointing to years of cuts under Jindal. “The state as a whole has neglected child welfare for several years — you just need to look at our budget priorities to see how this state feels about child welfare.” Hainey sees the results in his courtroom, as the caseworkers who by law must attempt to deal with children’s problems are overburdened and don’t have the time to devote to each case. “As a judge, it makes it difficult for me,” said Haney, who also is a foster parent. Caseworkers in court are “just reading the file. They weren’t involved in what’s happened, so they can’t tell me what’s really going on with these kids. Once you have a lot of turnover, nothing in the system works. It all relies on trust.”


New Orleans makes progress on lead

Scientists have long known that children who are exposed to environmental lead can suffer brain, kidney, liver and nerve damage and have a harder time learning in school. There are even studies suggesting that the massive drop in violent crime in recent decades is partly the result of reduced levels of environmental lead as the toxic element was banned from gasoline and paint. And now comes evidence that Hurricane Katrina dramatically reduced lead levels in New Orleans. Times-Picayune notes a new study from Tulane University:  

Looking at 176 census tracts in the metro area, the study found the average level of lead in the blood of children age 5 and under fell from 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood pre-Katrina to 1.8 micrograms. Researchers also measured lead in the soil in those census tracks, almost all of which were in New Orleans. The levels dropped from an average 280 parts per million before the disaster to 132 parts per million a decade after it.

The study cites the removal of lead paint during post-Katrina renovations, and sediment laid by Katrina’s floodwater on top of contaminated soil. But there is still work to be done.

A new report from NBC News found higher levels of lead in water from two dozens New Orleans homes that were higher than the Sewerage & Water Board has found in the past. The news organization tested the water after it had been running for longer than in government tests. The S&WB should review how it does its testing, even if the EPA doesn’t require it.


Big business opposes ITEP changes

Louisiana offers manufacturing businesses one of the most lucrative tax breaks available anywhere: A nearly-automatic, 10-year property tax exemption, which takes an estimated $1.67 billion in annual tax revenue from local governments that could otherwise be spent cops, schools, parks and other local needs, according to a study by Together Louisiana. A recent executive order by Gov. John Bel Edwards aims to scale back this break by, among other things, requiring corporations to get local approval before receiving their tax break and to demonstrate that their investments will actually create jobs. But big business is fighting back, with the head of the Louisiana Chemical Association writing in response to a previously published editorial in Sunday’s Advocate that Louisiana needs the massive giveaway to compete with its western neighbor:

The editorial points to Louisiana’s gifts from nature, the Mississippi River and the Calcasieu Basin, as competitive advantages. As arteries to the world’s commerce, plants have located on them for water access. Plants along these waterways have also closed as business conditions changed, sending future investments elsewhere. I worked for a multi-national company that shuttered two plants along the river, laying off 3,700 fellow employees. As the editorial notes, Texas has water, lots of water: the Houston Ship Channel, Galveston and Trinity Bays and the Gulf of Mexico. Texas’s other key attraction is scale. Its industrial footprint is huge. Texas’s chemical manufacturing output is greater than the combined production of California and Louisiana, which rank second and third. It also has a diversified and stable business climate that is friendly to large capital investments.


Our new low-growth world
In the United States and other advanced nation, economic growth has now been tepid for more than 15 years – falling far below earlier projections and below the level Americans enjoyed in the post-World War II decades. The New York Times’ Neil Irwin looks at this phenomenon, the role of technology, and wonders if it’s the new normal:

It increasingly looks as if something fundamental is broken in the global growth machine — and that the usual menu of policies, like interest rate cuts and modest fiscal stimulus, aren’t up to the task of fixing it The underlying reality of low growth will haunt whoever wins the White House in November, as well as leaders in Europe and Japan. An entire way of thinking about the future — that children will inevitably live in a much richer country than their parents — is thrown into question the longer this lasts.


Number of the Day

82 – Percentage of new child protection cases in Louisiana that were handled by overworked caseworkers (Source: The Advocate)