More than 300 workers will clean out their desks at the Administration for Children's Services today – a round of layoffs that some say raises serious concerns about child safety.
The children in the care of ACS have extremely painful, complicated problems. As Nakia Marshall, one of the hundreds of employees to get laid off, cleans out her desk, she wonders who will help those children.
"What about the little 2-year-old girl who was raped and sodomized by her mother's boyfriend?" asked Marshall, an ACS child welfare specialist. "Who's going to get her needs met? Who's going to place this girl … raped and mistreated by her family?"
The answers to those grave questions aren't clear. Marshall's office helps foster children with special needs get the services they need. Thirty-eight out of 40 workers in that office, including her, have been laid off.
And there are hundreds more laid-off workers throughout the agency – from record-keepers to people who process payments to adoptive parents.
ACS Commissioner John Mattingly acknowledged the cuts are painful and those workers would be missed, but insisted the agency's core mission – protecting children from abuse and neglect – will not be affected by the layoffs because frontline child abuse investigators are not the ones losing their jobs. .
"Our lay-offs are very difficult and troubling. It's not something that we want to do," Mattingly said. "All of the layoffs involve people who are doing work that is not related to child safety."
"That doesn't mean that these folks were not useful or helpful to us, but we have to make cuts because we don't have the resources," he added.
Case workers' Union President Faye Moore disagrees that child safety won't be affected. She insists that some of the workers on the chopping block help do background checks on child abuse investigators.
"It's misleading the public into thinking everything will be OK when those of us who have done this know that everything will not be OK," Moore said of the cuts.
From the perspective of the young people in foster care who are used to being raised more or less by a slow, bureaucratic child welfare system, the more workers in the agency, the better.
"They're put under a lot of pressure," said Anthony Taveras, who is in foster care. They have to "make us happy, make us feel like we do have a home … love us like family."
Meanwhile, the workers getting laid off now have concerns about the welfare of their own families.
"It's going to affect my income," Marshall said. "I have a 3-year-old daughter myself at home."
Mattingly admits there may be a bumpy transition over the next few weeks as staff are moved around and some positions are backfilled, and said it would be a challenge to ensure "everything gets done the way it needs to."