Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Detritus and Despair...twin fallouts from the Reagan years

The current world economic crisis partly has its roots in the mad-happy days of Reaganomics, where deregulation was de rigueur, markets were encouraged to follow their gut instincts (you know, that reptilian response where you shoot first and think later, maybe), and all things good flowed downhill (remember..trickle-down), with the left-overs to be lapped up by the masses. We can read Kevin Phillips to educate ourselves further on this issue.

What is not often discussed is the impact Reagan had on mental health care; while the system was not perfect before, it was sure better that what is out there now. Aside from the issues surrounding voluntary/involuntary commitment of the mentally ill to receive institutional care (note the number of murders recently by people whose families could not commit them involuntarily), is the problem of little funding for residential care. This became especially problematic for children with severe social/mental issues. Residential care is expensive (~$60/child/year), but generally effective both for the child as well as the families of these children. When Reagan refused to federally fund residential care through block grants sent to cities and counties, most of these children had to be seen in outpatient services. Suddenly, counselors who had case loads of level 1 and 2 children, were now serving children classified at levels 3 and 4, sometimes level 5. These children then took up the time and allocated dollars and the 1's and 2's began receiving less care. You can imagine how this impacted schools, families, communities for over 20 years. And we wonder why we have ailing schools, teachers overwhelmed, everyone complaining. And now we, in Seattle, have Mayor Nickels wanting to throw $9M at the youth problem with inadequate planning, coordination of agencies and schools and parents. Until we have wrap-around planning and care, all we will be doing is patting ourselves on the back for being do-gooders.

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