Q - Can you tell us your name and what kind of work you do?My name is Sarah Bishop and I do social service work here in Portland with youth and families.
Q - How long have you been doing that?I have been doing it for most of five years.
Q - We've noticed that in the last few years, there have been several budget cuts to programs like the program you work in. Can you talk about the budget cuts that have happened and how this has affected your work environment?Ever since I started working at my program and seeing the other programs that we're in partnerships with, it's been a constant struggle for funding. We haven't had any increased funding at all for raises and in fact a lot of positions have been cut. Programs are closing, and people are doing more and more work for the same and sometimes a lot less money
Q - And how has this affected the children or youth who you have helped?I think that it definitely affects the workplace morale, how people think about their jobs and whether they're valued in the community. That definitely affects the youth. Turnover is at times extremely high because people can't afford to do the work or don't feel like it's valued. And I started working at a place where I felt that morale was great, and because of stresses with the budget and finances, I feel like the program has suffered, because of turnover and other issues.
Q - Could you be more specific about how it suffered, other than morale, in terms of the quality of care you give or the results you see with your clients?In some other programs that we work closely with, the whole nature of the work has changed, because funding... we work with the kids that are in crisis, and originally that was kids who needed emergency shelter or counseling, and now we're working with kids that previously state agencies would work with, kids with extremely high needs, mental health, extremely abusive pasts, kids that need high levels of treatment and are asking people with no specific training to give these youth twenty-four hour care. So the nature of the work is extremely different and very stressful, and a lot of times the kids aren't getting the kind of treatment that they need.
Q - What kind of background does a person have to have to provide adequately for a youth who is struggling with those kinds of addictions and such, what kind of training does the person need to have versus what you see?Well I know that the programs that we're operating, the staff are extremely competent in dealing with youth in crisis and families in crisis. In terms of providing therapy, and the kinds of assessments that a lot of these kids need, that takes trained and qualified professionals, and a lot of them are overwhelmed. ... they have too many kids on their caseloads, so then we end up working with those kids.
Q - There was something that you were talking about before that was really interesting, kids with these addiction problems living in homeless shelters versus sleeping in kind of contained facilities.Yeah, for instance, sometimes we're working with kids that could be better served in a drug and alcohol facility or in a mental health facility. Maybe they have criminal backgrounds, and they could be served by other programs. We do an excellent job of working with all of those kids, in our capacity, but there are a lot of needs out there that aren't being met, that crisis-facilities and the homeless youth system are dealing with, because other services are being cut.
Q - How do you think that we could best spend public money to better this situation?I feel like there's a lot of infrastructure that's already there that's excellent There's a lot of people who can do the work. And programs that exist should be fully funded, so that we can take care of those youth. And I feel like the people in those programs know what needs are not being met, and we can fill those needs in terms of mental health and drug addictions and providing safe housing for youth, so that they can get the help that they need.
Q - Have you seen anything happen as a result of the cuts from the Oregon Health Plan?I know personally a lot of people who have been cut from the Oregon Health Plan because of the cuts. And most of the youth that we work with I think are able to access the Oregon Health Plan. But the more... the Oregon Health Plan, I think, is kind of falling off of a lot of people's radars because it is becoming less accessible to most people.
Q - Are you comfortable talking specifically about your wages and any changes you've seen in that and how it's affected you personally?Well, I've been working at the same job for over 4 years, and my starting wage was $8.75, and since then my wage was raised, essentially once, to 9.50 and I've been making that wage for years and years now. My employer tells me that there may be wage cuts, and that certainly we're not getting wage increases anytime soon. And oftentimes we are asked to pay for increased costs. Insurance costs go up and our employer asks us to take those costs on, in terms of insuring our cars. Or health insurance costs go up and they ask us to cover those costs. Fortunately I work in a workplace where the employees respectfully explain that we can't do that, and our employer has managed not to, for the most part, increase our personal responsibility, but... We're not making anywhere near a living wage. And as far as I can tell, that whole climate is not going to change, anytime soon.
Q - How many hours a week are you working?I work part-time, and it's non-benefited, because it's less than 20 hours. (At the time of the interview, Sarah had recently gone from full time to part time.)
Q - Would you prefer to work full-time? Is there not a position available, or...?Yeah... at this point, I actually make more money doing child-care then I do at my position, so I would prefer not to work a very, extremely stressful job for lower wages, but I do it because I think it's important, and I feel that I give a lot to the program and the youth that I work with.
Q - So it's really something that you do out of genuine concern and care for the people?Yeah, I definitely feel like this work is crucial, and it takes people that are very committed to it. And there's a lot of people that are very capable of doing it, and I feel like they would probably continue to be invested in this work if they could see that it was a profession that they could follow. A lot of people, unfortunately, can't do the work that we do. People who have families, anybody who has a dependent, anybody who's not willing to make major lifestyle changes in order to accommodate the low wages... isn't able to work at the programs that I work at.
Q - Could you kind of repeat what you were just saying in a more complex way? So I guess the question would be, why can't people who care about this work, who are qualified to do this work, who have a dependent, why can't they... why don't they choose to do that?There are a lot of people who would be very competent at this work who can't afford to do it because the wages are low and because with the wages that we earn it's nearly impossible to support any dependents, a family, and to have any sort of financial independence.
Q - So, this is kind of taking a little bit different direction, but... Over at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, they're conducting various behavioral studies with the hopes of helping children and youth who are suffering from depression and anxiety, drug addiction, which are things that you see on a daily basis. This is a quote from an abstract sent by Judy Cameron, and I'm curious about how you respond to this. The quote is, "Behavioral studies are being used to determine if infants who receive greater social support have a decreased probability of developing anxious and depressive behaviors compared to infants who receive less social support." So, do you think that a research project funding this topic would actually help the clients that you work with?I can't see that it would be helpful. I think that it's pretty clear to anybody who works with youth or who knows a child that the more nurturance and support that they get, the better off they're going to be. The youth that we work with have extreme emotional problems, and usually the youth can tell you exactly why they have those emotional problems. It's pretty much clear to everybody.
Q - So using monkeys doesn't help them?I don't think that primate research would be any help to these youth or families, no.
Q - Why do you think they're getting that much money and you're not?I think probably people have no idea that that's where the research is going on. And the programs I'm familiar with, we're struggling with deficits. And there's a lot of publicity around that. I think that probably people have no idea that money is being spent elsewhere.
Q - Where do you see social services going? What's going to happen?Well... I think that social services now are becoming very politicized and that people are spending money in political ways instead of responding to real needs of the youth. People in the programs know what the youth need. People who work with youth know what children need. And oftentimes people who don't have any real connection with those youth and families are making decisions about how to spend money, and making policy changes without actually thinking about how that changes programs. Programs get changed all the time that are working relatively well, and then for years they don't work well because they're in transition, and then once again they're asked to transition again. And I feel like there's a lot of programs that have history that work well, that should be fully funded, and then we can build from there.