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Departments of public service

In February 1992, a person posting under the name Anneliese Lilje wrote the following in an article in soc.women:

To say that because of this one abuse, the system is "loaded with Politically Correct people who don't care too much about the truth" is downright unfair and just plain silly. There ARE people in CPS, some who I know personally and whom I have worked with who are fair, good people who can actually get work done within the system. I have seen guilty men imprisoned for raping their daughters and guilty women for beating their sons. I have also seen a system overwhelmed with work and underwhelmed with funding. In other words we get what we pay for.
I opine that it isn't hard to understand the context. I commented in return:

Well, I won't speak to CPS; however I have seen a number of equivalent agencies and groups at work in Mass and I rather suspect that the same problems are present in California.

There are intrinsic problems in the nature of things.

Let us dispense with the term Politically Correct [which, frankly, seems to me to be more appropriate to Doctrinaire Conservatives.] However the fact remains that people with strong biases gravitate to places where they can act on those biases. These people can, and do act on their biases.

There is a natural tendency on the part of people to believe that what they are doing is very important. Thus the IRS believes that the most important thing you can do is pay taxes. There is a natural tendency to believe that any action taken on behalf of your public good is okay because your public good is of premier importance.

Departments of Public Service do not operate on "The Rule of Law". Under the rule of law, a specific action has a specific consequence which is public and fixed. Instead they operate on a case by case basis with the agency determining equity (the right and fair thing to do in the particular case.) Equity law is potentially fairer -- circumstances alter cases. However the realization of this potential is dependent on the quality (and biases) of the individuals in the agency.

As you point out these agencies are overworked and underfunded. This is, I suspect, inevitable in a society with as many endemic problems as our own. However the consequence is that the review process is short changed and that individual cases do not get the attention they need for fair application of equity.

External review is almost always deficient. [If you don't have the money to do the job in the first place, where do you get the money to check on the people doing the job?] There is a natural tendency in any calling to protect your own and conceal your errors from public exposure. The lack of adequate review leads to concealed abuse.

The individual in contact with such agencies is at an enormous disadvantage. Most people are intimidated by dealing with the government. Most people have little knowledge of their legal rights. The individual typically does not have the legal and financial resources available to the agency. The individual must pay for legal costs out of his/her own pocket; the case worker does not.

There is an enormous temptation for the harried case worker to use legal short cuts and misinformation about rights to expedite things -- in effect, to exploit the disadvantages of the individuals they are dealing with. The normal result is that this temptation is acted on and, because of the lack of adequate review, institutionalized.

The other side of the coin is that these agencies are magnets for people who want to help others and are willing to make considerable personal sacrifice to do so. They have more than their share of very good people.


This page was last updated December 1, 2007.

Richard Harter's World
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December 2007
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Save our prairies! View the You Tube video here.