May 26, 1993
By Yolanda Reynolds
Last week the Social Services Agency for Santa Clara County, in coordination with the El Comité (a Latino county employees organization), presented the Board of Supervisors with a plan that, they hope, will result in a more effective social services department for all of its clients, but in particular for those who are primarily Spanish speaking.
The Comité, formed in 1968, is made up of Chicano Social Workers, eligibility Workers and clerks employed in what is now known as the Social Services Agency. They came together in those early days because they felt that there was much that could be done to “improve services” to their Spanish speaking clients and the community.
They point out that, in the last six years, the number of Hispanic children in Santa Clara County in foster care had increased by 91 percent, This, they say, merits further analysis. They do not know whether it is because they are so effective in their work or if there are other problems that have caused this alarming increase in the need for child protective services.
The ﬁgure is made more alarming upon the realization that, although Latino children under the age of 18 make up only 29 percent of the child population in the county but, Latino children make up “42 percent of the children that are placed in the child welfare system.”
The increase in the need for child protective services could be due to a number of factors. Among them are: the inequitable distribution of resources that causes severe poverty, for many families; the stress of single parenting; teenage pregnancy and parenthood; lack of proper housing for families as well as immigration related issues and the lack of parenting skills, in particular, among teenage parents
This report follows on the heels of another study, completed in the fall of 1990, by County Supervisors, Zoe Lofgren and Dianne McKenna, that was entitled Alternative Futures: Trends and Choices. Data collected for this report indicated that although “Clara County has one of the highest median income of all counties in California, one in eight children living in Santa Clara County, lives in extreme poverty.”
That is, they lived in families who earned less than $8,328 for a family of three which, in 1990, made them eligible for welfare payments.
According to data gathered on the effects of poverty on children, children growing up in poverty are: “three times more likely to die in infancy, four times as likely to become pregnant as teenagers or to drop out of school, and are at higher risk for illness, abuse, and neglect.
Also, the 1990 Santa Clara County report revealed that 50 percent of all two year olds had not been fully immunized. ln 1990, the extent of extreme poverty and the lack of affordable housing, even for working families in California and here in Santa Clara County, was already a serious problem.
Since then the economic situation in the county has only deteriorated. Many workers have been laid off, only to ﬁnd that new jobs, if they can ﬁnd them, frequently pay one third less than their previous salary.
Others have been laid off from minimum wage jobs that even in 1990, were inadequate to permit them to live in the Valley. For these people the costs of housing could not be met. Ln addition there were other costs such as food, transportation, clothing and medical care, to be met above and beyond the payment of the rent for shelter.
According to a Stanford report released in 1990, a person earning a minimum wage would then have grossed $724 per month. The median rent for a studio apartment at that time was $514 to $617 per month. Since 1990, the rental rates have come down slightly but the employment rate in parts of San Jose has reached as high as 20 percent according to knowledgeable employment professionals leaving even more people without the funds to obtain housing. Thus the need for low cost housing has undoubtedly increased as lower wages and unemployment have also struck the Valley.
It is because of this situation that a number of grass roots organizations have taken to using demonstrations or “actions” to draw attention to the gravity of the many urgent crisis in the community; such as the lack of affordable housing, and the lack of attention to the needs of the city’s youth, be it for youth programs, library services, medical services or improved educational opportunities. Many of these are needed not only for children but for adults as well.
With all of these problems there are a number of church groups and individuals who we not heard from other than to protest the services offered by Planned Parenthood and others in the community, whose purpose is to assist sexually active women and men who are in need of information regarding birth control, tests for sexually transmitted diseases and family planning options including abortion (if that is their choice).
Family planning, including abortion, is condemned by their followers. Operation Rescue, a militant group opposing choice in this matter, has targeted San Jose, along with six other cities in the United States, for a summertime protest that they vow will match their protest last summer in Wichita, Kansas, where the confrontation became violent.
A small number of local church leaders asked that Mayor Hammer reverse two of the City’s ordinances that provide legal limits to the level of harassment permitted. One ordinance protects the right of women to seek help at abortion clinics: the “bubble law” which requires protesters to remain eight feet from a person entering a family planning clinic. The second ordinance limits so called “targeted protest”. A tactic tint has been used by Operation Rescue to harass abortion clinic workers at their homes. This tactic has also been used by others and both the tactic and the ordinance are controversial.
An Operation Rescue activist was recently accused of murdering an medical doctor who performed abortions – the right to which, is protected by the United States Constitution. The murder was a shock to many, even to some of those who protest abortion, since their opposition to abortion was said to stem from their concern of life.
No one, including medical professionals who assist in performing abortions, would advise abortion as a desirable method of birth control. Unfortunately, some women are faced with a situation in which they feel the need for an abortion. Only they can be responsible for such a decision.
Some people suggest that children should always be offered for adoption but, that is not as easy as it seems. There are not enough people wishing to adopt children of color or babies exposed to drugs while in gestation. “Crack” babies have a very hard time. Educators all remark on the devastation that drugs are having on children and the effects that drugs have on their ability to learn because of the neural damage that drug use causes.
More must be done to help those who have children in order to cope with the problems that lead to their abusing or abandoning their children to protective services. As suggested in El Comite’s report, we need “to reduce (the number of children requiring) Juvenile Court intervention and the number of dependent children… and to provide services that keep families together… primarily by an emphasis on prevention.”
Though many people, not only in the County but in the state, as well are concerned and trying to improve the lives of children, their work will only be made more difﬁcult as the state’s budget shortfall is addressed.
California Governor, Pete Wilson, says that he will not impose increased taxes on the wealthy, nor curtail Redevelopment’s tax increment financing impact on the statewide budget but that he plans instead; further cuts in aid to needy people and to “force them to work.” His assumption is that people are poor and needy because they are lazy – even though there are few or no jobs available for them.
This is hard to accept when, like others, two of the largest employers in Santa Clara County, the City of San Jose and the County government, will soon be firing hundreds of workers.
It is not at all certain if the anti-choice church spokespersons and their followers are as involved in assuring that needy people, in particular, needy children are cared for and helped as they are involved in protesting, in many cases, of any sort of birth control or planning choice, even though a child would likely face a bleak and frequently violent life as they grow up – too often abandoned not only by the parent but by society as well.
Gil Villagran a member of El Comité says that Supervisors Lofgren and McKenna will be discussing the proposals they have made regarding service to Chicano/Latino and Spanish speaking clients as well as other aspects of social service needs in the community in July.
For more information contact Supervisors Lofgren or McKenna at299-2373. Gil Villagran can be reached at 441-5607.
The Director of the Santa Clara County Social Services Agency is Richard R. O’Neil. For a copy of the report contact 0’Neil, call 441-5615.