In a recent article, 8 News Now has reported that overcrowding has caused safety issues at Child Haven, one of the last bastions of sanctuary for vulnerable Vegas Valley children. This should come as no surprise when you look at the sheer number of children and families who desperately need help in the greater Las Vegas area.
Whether you serve children as a daycare provider, educator, elementary school teacher, medic, police officer or in the field of social work with juveniles, overcrowding and the associated stress can wear you down over a matter of months. These dedicated professionals donate a great portion of their lives to give hope and help to children who may otherwise be hopeless. Yet more and more homeless children are showing up daily at inner city schools, and families beg for help from the teachers and administration. Some schools, like Whitney Elementary, have had the financial support to set up a store, provide children and their families with groceries, feed the children in their care and work with parents on issues such as housing and other legal concerns. But other schools also have staff who work quietly and without fanfare to provide for their children. They give our of their own pockets with love and concern for those they teach. Clark Country School District and different food banks see increases in demand every year. Sometimes one has to wonder why this is the case in a city as affluent as Las Vegas.
When you work at St. Jude's Ranch for children, the Pregnant & Parenting Teen House is supposed to educate the teens within their care, to teach them valuable life skills and to train them to cope and raise their children as they attend school. Staff are supposed to be well trained and should have a built-in support system, but this means that all staff members have to be on the same page and follow the same Model of Care policies. This isn't always the case. Many of these girls come from juvenile detention, or even from Child Haven once they learn they are pregnant. Many have had prior pregnancies, and have storied pasts that would horrify more traditional families. They are tough and they can be a real challenge to caregivers, but they, too deserve a chance to receive an education so that their children don't follow the same path. As one bitter 15 year old female resident once said, "You've already taken away my freedom and my rights. What next - my kid? I'd like to see anybody try!"
The other houses on the grounds may hold entire families of children, some whom have been apart for so many years that they are virtual strangers. This needs a different type of care giving, a different approach. Other houses have children who are strangers to each other before they enter care, each with their own personalities and needs, which makes individual care a necessity. There are waiting lists for this facility and Boy's Town is also bursting at the seams and constantly advertising for workers. Why? Because with the stress level, even the most devoted individual can only provide love and attention for so long. A limited number of people are willing to foster or adopt challenging children. Many look for infants, which is understandable, but it's sad when so many elementary aged and older children desperately need families and places to call home. Some grow up at St Jude's Ranch and learn life skills there, without ever really knowing a home of their own. This is a sad reality to them. Others are cast out onto the street without even being given a chance if they pass through the cracks.
When it gets to the point where workers for Child and Family Services feel they can't cope anymore, and when they report their concerns to the Clark County Commission, you know things are pretty bad in this state. Being short-staffed equals inadequate supervision which leads to tragic accidents and injuries. When DFS has received reports of suspected abuse and neglect from mandated reporters, such as schools and caregivers, and doesn't respond promptly and in a timely manner, the result can be death for the child. When the almighty dollar is the bottom line, that shows very poor judgement on the part of those who make up the budgets. You can't use a 2000 budget on 2014 kids, with the over-crowding and growth in numbers needing care.
So now a task force is being created to "look into the situation," and how many more children will have to suffer and die, and how many more families will go without food and support until this is done? How many more schools will have to cope with children who arrive unfed and neglected, and how many more day care centers will receive children who haven't had diapers changed in over 12 hours, or who aren't bathed for over a week before something changes? How many children will be forced to endure child care for over 10 hours per day, 7 days a week?
"It take a community to raise a child" may well be an old saying but it could not be more true today. Throwing money at a situation or doing things the tried and true way doesn't seem to be working, and making budget cuts to vital services and cutting school support staff definitely isn't the way to go! Perhaps it is time for all the members of our community to look to the children first and for administrators of the different facilities to ensure the well-being of their staff as well as the children. Do less public fundraising to line the coffers and do more actual allocation of funds to where they are really needed - for the good of all the children and those who care for them on a daily basis.