Which is better: More government or less?
Most people have an ideological answer ready, but from a practical standpoint, it’s a ridiculous question.
Better is better.
When I met Suzy Sonnier, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, earlier this year, she was facing most government officials’ least favorite task—reducing her department’s budget. I was there as a consultant for the state, to help her meet a deficit-driven directive to cut spending in most state agencies by roughly seven percent.
This was a particularly steep challenge for DCFS. It had already endured cuts of 12.4 percent in recent years—more severe than the state as a whole. Most of these cuts were absorbed by “back-office” staff, but some came in reductions in front-line caseworkers, who deal with child abuse, troubled youths, and kids stranded in the no-man’s land of foster care. These aren’t problems that go away just because government funding to address them does. In fact, they tend to get worse.
Sonnier, like an increasing number of children’s-services leaders, tried to chart a path between continuing to pour money into remediating these problems and simply cutting services short-term just to watch problems fester (and costs rise.) This vision required bringing together the many disparate government agencies that currently attempt to serve families with needs ranging from lack of health care to poor nutrition to behavioral or substance-abuse problems—something often referred to in the field as a “Coordinated System of Care” (CSoC). In some ways, this is simply the latest iteration of a concept called “No Wrong Door.” Under No Wrong Door, no matter where a family goes for help—seeking food stamps, or Medicaid, or income assistance, or help paying for fuel oil—they get the help they need, instead of being shunted off to the “right” agency or phone number in the kind of unending loop with which most of us are all too familiar. What’s more, they get all the help they need, not just whatever they were originally calling about.