We, who lead non-profit human service agencies, have spent the last several years re-inventing the way we do business. While we are all committed to doing “good works,” we are also acutely aware that we are running a business. Unlike a business, however, we do not set our rates. They are dictated to us by the state and third party insurers. Most of us have experienced a reduction in funding or flat funding for several years. I would challenge any business owner to keep his or her business alive and maintain the same product quality while being paid 1992 rates. That is exactly what our sexual abuse treatment program has been doing for 20 years. Most agencies that provide services for the Department of Children, Youth and Families have just suffered another blow – significant rate reductions; this after five years of flat funding.
Challenging times often force us to think more creatively, flexibly and strategically and present opportunities we may not have had otherwise. Obstacles and challenges have a way of strengthening the resolve of non-profit organizations; however, there comes a point when a lack of funding breaks us and those we serve. How do we make decisions to cut funding to vulnerable children and families and not recognize the long-term cost to society? As a society, we have a responsibility to help children and families who have been impacted by abuse and neglect heal, become strong and lead productive lives free from abuse. When we turn our backs on these families, we are sending a strong message that they are not worthy and we must admit to ourselves that we are sacrificing the future of this marginalized population and the promise of a more functional, healthy society.
Children who have been victims of sexual or physical abuse or have experienced neglect or domestic violence are often living a nightmare. Most people don’t really want to hear their stories. These children and families are invisible to our legislature and our governor – that is, until there is a tragedy. With the continued reduction in funding to DCYF, there most assuredly will be another tragedy and DCYF will be the likely scapegoat. These vulnerable children do not have a voice. DCYF and service providers are the voice of this population. Collectively, we are doing a poor job of advocating on their behalf and, as a result, the legislature continues to make shortsighted funding decisions.
For those who believe we’re spending too much on services to these children, I would ask them to spend 10 minutes with a child who is experiencing an intense flashback of her sexual abuse and bear witness to the child’s suffering – witness a child, who during the flashback, is experiencing abject terror and is not in the present. Listen to her plead with her perpetrator to leave her alone, to stop hurting her, to wonder out loud what she did to deserve it or be treated as less than human – as nothing more than an object through which her perpetrator obtains gratification and the power he desperately seeks.
Our kids, the children we treat, educate and care for, are among the most vulnerable. They’ve lived lives most of us can’t imagine. These children and families hold great promise, but only if given the opportunities they deserve – opportunities that most of us had by nature of our birthright and take for granted. It’s up to us to help them see their potential, to help them understand that being victimized was something that happened to them and not who they are, to help them understand that they are deserving of love and respect, and a healthy future. In doing so, we hope to influence our children and families to pass on a hopeful and uplifting message to the next generation and have a positive impact on the cycle of abuse and neglect.
Let’s hope the legislature recognizes the need to invest in the health and welfare of children and families who have suffered the emotional and psychological scars of abuse and neglect. It is both the humane and fiscally responsible thing to do.
Carlene Casciano-McCann is the Executive Director of St. Mary's Home for Children in North Providence.