Ted Simons: The Children’s Action Alliance is urging the legislature to pass funding for childcare vouchers during an upcoming special session, saying the vouchers are a proven method to prevent child abuse. For more, we welcome Dana Wolfe Naimark, president and CEO of the Children’s Action Alliance. Good to see you again.
Dana Wolfe Naimark: Thank you, Ted.
Ted Simons: There's so much to talk about with this thing. I just -- to start, your thoughts on the upcoming special session.
Dana Wolfe Naimark: We're excited about it. The governor has been very clear that she's going to bring the legislature back and they need to complete the task of creating the new child safety agency and setting it on a track to success with the budget that it needs.
Ted Simons: So from where you sit, how should this new agency be set up?
Dana Wolfe Naimark: Well, I think it needs to be set up looking at child safety very broadly because we know that investigations are just one small piece of the puzzle. Once you do an investigation, the child needs to be somewhere safe, whether that's at home with his or her parents or in some temporary placement or moved into another permanent place to live.
And so there's a lot that has to happen after an investigation, and child safety is not just moving a child from one place to another. It's really all the connections that child has and their opportunities for their future.
Ted Simons: I want to get to that in a second but you mentioned investigations, I think investigations and enforcement seem to be emphasized, at least among many legislators, especially considering what happened with CPS.
Dana Wolfe Naimark: That did get an emphasis because of the big announcement last November about the non-investigated cases. So a lot of attention has been poured on this issue of investigation, but we are seeing lawmakers really recognize and understand that the agency has a bigger responsibility, the new agency, and that they have to really look at permanent, safe homes for children and opportunities for health, for education, for their future.
Ted Simons: And I understand, I know that you've been out there, pushing for the idea of childcare as a preventive service. Talk to us about that.
Dana Wolfe Naimark: So a lot of lawmakers this session have begun to talk about early intervention and recognizing that we've had sky-rocketing growth in reports of neglect, reports that come into CPS, and we have to turn those trends around because our system cannot sustain growth like that. One way to turn those trends around is to pay attention to families before they're in crisis and one of those very pragmatic tools is childcare vouchers to help low-income working families pay for safe childcare.
Ted Simons: Give me a definition of childcare vouchers.
Dana Wolfe Naimark: We've had this probably since the seventies, and it's funded with a combination of federal dollars and used to be state dollars, there’s very few state dollars left in there because they were cut during the great recession and that's when we started an enrollment freeze. So childcare vouchers literally give working parents a way to help find childcare in the private sector, it can be faith-based childcare, private, for profit, nonprofit, and it helps them to pay for childcare so that they have a safe and educational place for their children, while they go to work.
Ted Simons: So it's been around for a while, obviously a little more healthy and robust than past years. What does the data show? What happens when it's not so healthy and not so robust?
Dana Wolfe Naimark: Well, it's fascinating and heart-wrenching to look at the data. We've had an enrollment freeze since 2009 when we did the budget cuts, and the number of children participating has plummeted from 29,000 to 7,500. At the same time, that has dropped, the number of reports of neglect have sky-rocketed up more than 50%.
So, it's not a one to one relationship, but it is linked. When parents don't have safe places for their children while they go to work, they can leave children in dangerous situations, it could be home alone, home with an older sibling, with three different neighbors on three different days of the week. Sometimes, those situations add up to neglect, and children are at risk and in danger and that then goes onto our CPS caseload.
Ted Simons: You mentioned 2009 is when those diminishing funds began. Lawmakers, they've been here. They've said that we just did not have the resources to fund like we did in the past; some are saying we still don’t have the resources, especially looking into the future. Is this something that is -- I don't want to say luxury -- but something that the state can afford?
Dana Wolfe Naimark: Oh, it is a necessity. We have over half of our young children have all of their parents in the workplace -- so either a single-parent working or married parents who are both working. Childcare is a necessity, and we have seen the results of what happens without it. So we know that it's a very smart investment. It does cost money, but if we don't pay for that now, we will see sky-rocketing cps caseloads that we surely cannot afford going forward.
Ted Simons: As far as the revamping of what was CPS, is the state looking at other states, other regions, other anythings, anyone doing this right, and saying hey, let's follow that model?
Dana Wolfe Naimark: Yeah, the new director Charles Flanagan has really reached out to people across the country and in other states looking for models and for best practices, and I see that he's incorporating what he finds as evidence-based practices and things that work in other places and things that have worked here. We have a history of things that have worked over time, and he's bringing some of those back, as well.
Ted Simons: So as far as how the department should be budgeted, how should it be budgeted realistically?
Dana Wolfe Naimark: Well, I don't have a whole picture of the total budget yet, and we're looking forward to working with the governor's office on what that budget will look like, but we know the key things are staffing, so that caseloads are manageable, places for children to be when they need temporary homes, and you need to pay for those, and services for families both to keep children at home safely, but also to help families get back together and get back on track.
Ted Simons: So the legislative mindset -- and I mentioned we've had them on the air, the lawmakers come on the show often, and almost every time, we simply can't afford it -- with that in mind, the mindset on child safety and family services, do you think the mindset of the legislature has changed because of what happened at CPS?
Dana Wolfe Naimark: I think for many legislators it has. I'm hearing, and I hope you are too, much more of a focus on child safety in the big picture this session and conversations about childcare, about early intervention, about tools to provide to families before they're in crisis, more conversation than we've had in the last five to ten years. So I am seeing shifts, and I think the reality of the outcomes is influencing that.
Ted Simons: All right, we'll see what happens probably later in the month when that special session gets going again. Good to see you again.
Dana Wolfe Naimark: Thank you.