Opinion: Budget battlers ought to read some Dr. Seuss
The standoff between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Republicans in the Michigan Legislature has nothing to do with the value of the programs that were administratively defunded or struck down through line-item veto.
Unfortunately for the citizens of Michigan, the stalemate bears more resemblance to that of the Zax in the beloved Dr. Seuss story than to a debate between level-headed adults charged with solving the state’s pressing problems.
In fact, these entrenched positions will cause enormous damage to families and children in Michigan because even life-changing programs like West Michigan Partnership for Children are in danger of being shut down.
This five-year, performance-based pilot moves foster care services from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to a consortium of community-based agencies. It was designed to transform the state’s foster care system, drawing from nationwide models that have demonstrated improved safety, quality and consistency of foster care services and outcomes.
Not only did the pilot receive bipartisan support when originally funded, it has outperformed projections and received national recognition.
So why, just two years in, is it in jeopardy? Because, like the Zax, each side refuses to budge.
In the Seuss story, a North-Going and South-Going Zax come toe-to-toe in the Prairie of Pax. Neither will step to the side to allow the other through. As the story goes: “The North-Going Zax puffed his chest up with pride. ‘I never,’ he said, ‘take a step to one side.’”
The South-Going Zax held fast, too: “For I live by a rule that I learned as a boy. ... Never budge in the least! Not an inch to the west! Not an inch to the east! I’ll stay here, not budging! I can and I will if it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!” In the end, the two Zax stand toe-to-toe into eternity while the world changes around them.
Even at the risk of losing programs that assist physically, sexually and emotionally abused children and families, our elected officials are willing to ignore the consequences of their intractability and blame the other side for the impending disaster. We are forced to question whether pride and political autonomy are more important to them than progress.
Over the past two years, WMPC has helped keep kids from bouncing between foster homes by creating Enhanced Foster Care, a treatment model that provides in-home counseling and behavior supports for children traumatized by the adverse experiences they suffered while in their parents’ care.
Through EFC, WMPC has reduced the number of days children spend in residential treatment facilities by 20%, increased the number of licensed foster homes in three Kent County zip codes by 65%, reduced the number of children going into residential placements by 5% and cut the length of stay for children in foster care by 5%.
WMPC has also worked creatively with MDHHS to address the over-representation of children of color in foster care.
All these gains, aimed at improving the foster care system statewide and extricating the State of Michigan from the Children’s Rights lawsuit pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, will be lost when MDHHS is forced to transfer contracts from WMPC back to itself. WMPC — the best thing to happen in Michigan’s child protection arena in decades — will be unraveled while our elected officials play politics with children’s lives.
I implore the governor and Legislature: Take a step to the side, now. The whole world cannot stand still while you stand toe to toe over roads. Our most vulnerable children simply do not have that kind of time.
The Honorable Kathleen A. Feeney is chief judge pro tem of Kent County Circuit Court.