Opinion Piece By Samuel Strait – July 6, 2016 – I am sure by now if you don’t know already, that assembling any sort of coherent story from the agenda driven narratives found in our local print newspaper, the Triplicate, has become almost impossible. In a recent front page series of stories regarding the Department of Health and Human Services, (DHHS), one would think that the Department was careening towards oblivion. Obviously, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Rest assured that all is well at the DHHS.
In the first place, no one, not anyone on the Grand Jury for this year or the writers of narratives at the Triplicate can come close to understanding the complex issues surrounding that of a Social Worker at Child Protective Services when intervening into the life of a child that may be experiencing the trauma of abuse or neglect. In addition to what may be an extremely emotional issue for the worker and the client, the Case Worker must adhere to a jungle of rules and regulations which don’t always include a successful resolution. The very fact that the Grand Jury and the Triplicate reporters focus on a few cases that they are aware of that “slipped through the cracks” in the system is a testament to their ignorance of the basic facts of life. It does not matter how much money you spend, how many people you employ to fix problems, how well your programs are implemented, there will always be children that “SLIP THROUGH THE CRACKS”. It is simply irresponsible to imply that anyone at Child Protective Services intentionally failed to provide services to a client based on statistics showing Del Norte County has higher abuse and neglect rates, low employee pay, or a high case load.
So, aside from the typical, the employees don’t make enough money, they are over worked, and they make a few mistakes, what is the Grand Jury Report, and the follow up stories in the newspaper really all about? Perhaps it is time to look at the former Directer Barbara Pierson, someone who resigned from the County over five months ago yet still continues publicly rail against her former Department and its staff using the pages in the Triplicate to accomplish exactly WHAT?
It seems pretty clear to me at least, that over the course of a little over one year Director Pierson managed to alienate most of the people employed in her department. The public statements by Director Pierson in the fall of 2015, where she literally threw her entire department under the bus in a very public way seems to indicate that her troubles with her staff began fairly early in her tenure. What would trouble any one who really cared, Triplicate reporters included, would be how a person who was clearly unsuitable for the position of director, was vetted and hired without some basic knowledge of her previous body of work and any signs of issues with previous employers. Was Ms. Pierson successful in her last position and what baggage, connections did she bring with her to Del Norte County? Was her previous body of work what created the rift between her and her employees?
In the interview with former Director Pierson, prominently displayed on the front page of a recent Triplicate, including a photograph, is a touchy feely series of questions responded to by Ms. Pierson without any thought to the obvious things that came to pass in the course of her road to resignation. The Breakfast Club and why was it a problem for the staff? Some thing like are there kitchen facilities in the building for the Breakfast Club? Or was there any way to prevent unauthorized people while engaged in serving breakfast from roaming around in the building? Contrary to Ms. Pierson’s characterization of “just wanting to help” outside of and at no cost to the department, was that really the case? Who staffed the breakfast club? Did it occur during office hours? Did the staff feel safe with the homeless in question? Her simplistic declaration of that the staff was uncomfortable because the homeless might be messy, drunk or ill, or that they may look or smell different belies the plain fact that regardless of their appearance or condition DHHS employees did not feel safe in that environment. Yet the answers these questions or circumstance are no where to be found in Ms. Pierson’s interview. All questions that perhaps in an effort to write a complete story might have been asked?
As a curious person, particularly when I see mention of “consultants”, almost the first thing that crosses my mind as we have such a great record with consultants, is what connections did Ms. Pierson have with this particular one previous to her employment here? Besides her claims to “nationally acclaimed”, locally behind the times, the Affordable Care Act, bringing people in to help us, and staff being resistant to change, what exactly was new about this process and vital to the health of the Department that required a relatively large monetary outlay for this particular expertise? What about the current operational standards employed by the staff fails to meet the needs of their clients? What does becoming “more welcoming” mean and how is it not being met already? Are members of the current staff required to have ESP abilities in order to meet the needs of their clients? Or does the client have any responsibility for asking for services that they feel they need? I find it difficult to accept that employees in the department do not assist clients when attempting to meet their needs particularly if it falls in the realm of assistance that can legally be offered.
In this County the word Poverty has become a worn out phrase to account for most of the problems that exist within. Ms. Pierson needs to move on and become some other person’s problem. It sounds as though she has done at least one thing right in her tenure which is the hiring of Ms. Heather Snow, currently acting Director of Health and Human Services. Perhaps Acting Director Snow, given the chance, will be able to right the ship, if in fact it ever did need righting.
So in the end, what was all the fuss about? A former Director’s bitterness about being forced to resign? Low wages and over worked employees? Children, whose lives might be changed for the better by closing holes in the system? Maybe all of the above. What can be done to change any of the above? Maybe nothing. But now, at least we know more of the story..