Louisiana’s child welfare crisis

Louisiana’s child welfare crisis

Louisiana leads the nation in rates of children killed by homicide, and reports of child abuse and neglect have soared since the start of the pandemic. But the state Department of Children and Family Services – charged with overseeing child welfare – has hundreds of vacant positions, while staffers who remain are often overworked and underpaid. The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate’s Andrea Gallo spoke with current and former caseworkers and supervisors, including some who describe the agency’s workplace culture as “toxic.” 

Staff caseloads at the beleaguered agency are three times higher than the national standard. In Jefferson Parish, one caseworker said a colleague is currently juggling more than 100 cases. And when overnight emergencies arise, workers on call don’t get extra pay, just time off — but often that’s not taken because they know their caseload only will be worse when they return.

Agency leaders are considering using outside staffing agencies to fill some gaps, and have asked the state Civil Service Commission for increased flexibility to pay overtime. 

The economic roots of white supremacy
Most people think of Jim Crow exclusively in terms of the racial oppression of Black Americans. But the racist laws that dominated the post-Reconstruction South were just as much about preserving a specific economic order as it was about depriving Black Americans basic rights and freedoms. For decades Southern elites fought against organized labor movements, especially ones that crossed racial lines, because they threatened to undermine an economic system they dominated. The New York Times’ Jamelle Bouie explains

“In the end,” writes the labor scholar Michael Goldfield in “The Southern Key: Class, Race, & Radicalism in the 1930s & 1940s,” “the civil rights movement, for all its heroic struggles and important successes, was not able to confront the economic roots of white supremacy.” Which is to say that the economy of the South would retain its low-wage, exploitative character, and its politics would remain, for the most part, in the hands of powerful business interests. And while the region would see real economic growth and the rise of a Black middle class, it would also continue to see vast inequality structured by race hierarchy, with segregated Black communities bearing the brunt of disinvestment, deindustrialization and capital flight. Put another way, the high unemployment rates of the Black Belt are as much a legacy of Jim Crow as the persistent efforts to keep Black Americans away from the ballot box are.

Sending kids to Angola
“The untenable must yield to the intolerable.” With those words, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick reluctantly refused to block Louisiana’s plan to move some children from the troubled Bridge City Center for Youth in Jefferson Parish to the maximum security prison at Angola. The Louisiana Illuminator’s Julie O’Donoghue reports on the the Dick’s explanation for her ruling: 

In her ruling, Dick said she believes sending children and adolescents to Angola will likely be distressing for them, but she considers the more pressing concern to be the safety of incarcerated minors who aren’t acting out. “The Court is mindful that the specter of the prison surroundings alone will likely cause psychological trauma and harm. However, the public interest and the balance of harms require that [state government] be afforded the latitude to carry out its rehabilitative mission for the benefit of all youth in its care,” she wrote in her ruling. “Other youth have been victimized by the high-risk youth when they try to go to sleep at night, and they have reported to [Juvenile Justice administrator Curtis Nelson] that they are afraid to go to sleep at night for fear of being attacked by these high-risk youth,” Dick said.

Home-health care crisis 
A generation of Americans have been planning to spend their twilight years in their homes rather than in the institutional confines of a nursing home. But a shortage of home-care workers threatens this reality for millions of Americans, and millions more in the years to come as baby boomers continue to age into their late retirement years. The worker shortage predates the pandemic but has grown much worse in recent months as people fled for better-paying jobs in other economic sectors such as retail or restaurants. The Washington Post’s Christopher Rowland reports on the crisis: 

The shortage of workers is threatening the option of aging at home for people up and down the economic scale — whether they qualify for government Medicaid, have medical conditions that qualify for Medicare coverage, or must pay out of pocket. “I often worry about where families are turning right now,” said Vicki Hoak, chief executive officer of the Home Care Association of America, which represents 4,000 home care agencies across the country. Many of its members had been turning away 30 to 40 requests for care per month, she said: “We have that increased need, yet we are having to turn away people because we don’t have staff.”

Number of the Day
8% – Percentage of new single-family homes in the U.S. that are 1,400 square feet or less, compared to nearly 70% of new houses in the 1940s. This increased size (and cost) of homes has squeezed out entry-level homes for many Americans. (Source: CoreLogic via The New York Times)