In Michigan’s State of the State address, Governor Snyder announced that he would be merging the Department of Human Services and the Department of Community Health in an attempt to address people, not problems. But how this merger will happen and how it will affect Michigan families remains to be seen.
Governor Snyder announced his plan to merge the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Department of Community Health (DCH) in his January 20, 2015 State of the State address. According to the Governor, the move is a resident-centered one:
“What we’ve done is we’ve sliced and diced people into programs, we’ve moved away from treating them as real people and, in some cases, we’ve taken some of their dignity away. . . . Quite often we’re addressing symptoms. We’re not addressing root causes. In some cases we’re actually facilitating dependence on state government. That’s not right. We’ve also built a lot of bureaucracy and inefficiency in the system, and that’s not right.”
When all is said and done, the merger promises to create the single largest department in the state – employing over 14,000 people.
But Union representatives are concerned that the merger could include shake-ups and job insecurity, which they say will interfere with social workers’ abilities to do their jobs. And their concerns may be warranted. It is well known that DHS has a high degree of caseworker turn-over because of the stress and quantity of the work. In December alone DHS workers logged 11,636 new abuse and neglect complaints. But according to the Governor the change could also cause case work to be more streamlined and help workers better interface with their charges.
The DHS merger was forecasted when Snyder appointed Nick Lyon, the head of DCH, as the interim director of DHS when former Director Maura Corrigan retired from the job last year. And that choice at least seems rather uncontroversial.
Republicans, Democrats, and advocates are all on board with the merger. For example, Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, which advocates for low-income residents, said the merger could be a good move:
“This could be a great opportunity to do things more efficiently and more humanely. We’ve had some problems with some policies that have come out of DHS in recent years in terms of their concern about fraud and abuse instead of how do we get people back on track and getting jobs. But depending on who is going to be new director, and if it’s Nick Lyon, it would be awesome.”
So far, the terms of the merger and any changes in policy and procedure have been kept pretty close to the vest. It remains to be seen whether caseworkers will see shifts in their duties or their caseloads or how families will be affected. But there is an opportunity for the change to be a good one for Michigan families facing a complex and often intimidating system.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a family lawyer for Schmidt Law Services in Ferndale, Michigan. She helps parents facing abuse and neglect cases get the services they need to be reunited with their children. If you know someone facing a Child Protective Services or DHS complaint, contact Schmidt Law Services today for a free consultation.