Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.
Last night’s meeting
Here are a few observations from last night’s meeting:
First, Larry, here are the details I jotted down about foster care:
The report was in a response to a question from Supervisor Jerry Logan, who asked why Spotsylvania has 2.5% of the state’s foster children when the county doesn’t have 2.5% of the state’s children overall. I don’t know about anyone else listening, but I was pretty surprised by some of the numbers social services Acting Director Gail Crooks mentioned. First, that Spotsylvania has a high number of calls about child abuse or neglect. I do remember from an earlier story that Spotsylvania does get a lot of referrals–cases to investigate. But I’m not sure why this is.
But in 2010, Spotsylvania received 904 referrals while neighboring Stafford County received 373. Now, percentage-wise, Spotsylvania does have quite a few more children than Stafford. According to numbers Crooks presented, 8.3% of Spotsy families have children under 18, while 4.4% of Stafford families do. That still doesn’t explain the discrepancy in referrals, but Crooks suggested that another number might–the number of families living under the poverty level. In Spotsy, 7.1% of families live in poverty, while 2.7% of Stafford families do.
Crooks was careful to mention that poverty does not equate to abuse or neglect. But families suffering under financial stress might be more apt to snap. And statistics have shown a correlation between financial strain and abuse or neglect. Of course, I’m always hesitant to say statistics show causality and would definitely reiterate Crooks’ assertion that poverty doesn’t mean bad parenting. That’s probably one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned as a social services reporter.
So that’s as much of an explanation as there was about the rates of foster care. I won’t even try to answer the question on whose responsibility abused or neglected children is, except to say that the law does say that the county cannot ignore these children and must step in. But I think you’re asking that in a more moral/existential kind of way. I did ask for that, I guess.
Another thing that surprised me about the meeting was the tension. So far in my short tenure, everyone has been amazingly civil to each other on the board. But last night, there were definitely a few sparks, though everyone remained very polite. Logan suggested using some of the projected surplus to give residents a rebate and said this was a very real step the board could take to help the struggling families Crooks mentioned. He said:
“If we’re dealing with folks that are in this kind of financial straits, I think this would go a long way in helping those folks.”
Supervisor Gary Jackson later said that he didn’t understand the drive to give taxpayers either a cut or a rebate, considering that Logan voted for the gas tax (by voting in favor of VRE in Spotsylvania):
“I’m having a hard time reconciling your interest here and I’m wondering if it’s not an election-year conversion.”
Logan countered that the gas tax had a negligible effect on tax payers and said that he runs “a fleet of trucks” every day in the county and hasn’t noticed a difference. Jackson said that he does notice and added:
“The rebate idea, I’m sure, is going to make great press. I think it’s irresponsible, I’m not going to support it. Every time I fill up at the gas station, I do a mental calculation and I invoke your name.”
So Tuesday afternoon, they’ll get to the nitty gritty details of the budget. Supervisors will discuss the surplus, employee raises, the five proposed social work positions and some additional details–like more money for the farmers’ market, the library or Micah Ecumenical Ministries.