The state’s budget is in dire straits, and every citizen must do his or her share to assist in putting Maine back in the black. It seems to me, however, that some of the cutbacks are detrimental to the state’s economy rather than cost effective. I am particularly concerned about the judicial system with regard to child-protection issues.
Much has been said about the Maine Department of Human Services’ problems in meeting the needs of citizens in protective custody, and of their families who must suffer the agonies of separation while DHS does its job to protect children and provide appropriate services to their families. This can be a very slow process, especially when evaluations are deemed necessary from a variety of professional resources, all of which are experiencing financial stress.
Imagine still further, through to the completion of the DHS’ role and resource tasks, into the courtroom on the one afternoon a week set aside for protective custody hearings only to discover that there are five or six other cases to be heard in addition to the one you are personally involved in. Several of these cases will be contested if one or more of these cases are C-1 hearings; they must by law be heard within 10 days of the preliminary protection order, hence they supercede other types of hearings. The final blow comes in knowing that the courthouse must be closed at 4:30 p.m. because of a lack of funds to keep it open longer.
At best, court is not a pleasant place to be. If cases are heard someone wins and someone loses. The anxiety of courtroom preparation and of the actual hearing is tremendous. People often travel hundreds of miles to represent their prospectives in these proceedings. People give up valuable work time to be present in court. All too often, however, the cases are continued, not because of DHS not doing its work, not because attorneys and guardian ad litems have not prepared themselves, but simply because the court can’t allow enough time to do these proceedings.
The result is frustrated DHS workers, sad and often angry children and parents, and still more frustrated professionals who have left work to be a part of the judicial process.
Innocent children should not be the ones to suffer still more abuse because the state’s budget needs bolstering. If DHS and the courts could do their work maybe the state would be saving money, prevention being the best medicine.
As long as the budget cuts continue to be in areas that might serve as prevention, however, the state will always be providing expensive bandages.
Bette Hoxie is a foster parent and court-appointed special advocate who resides in Old Town.