Will Reduced Headcount Equal Increased Kid Count?

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The Seattle-based Casey Family Programs (CFP) in January unveiled its second major staff cutback within the past three months. In November, CFP President Ruth Massinga euphemistically announced CFP’s “need to reduce headcount” by 60 positions. In January, another 250 staffers (who work in child welfare, foster care and related services) lost their jobs.

The 37-year-old operating foundation was begun by UPS founder Jim Casey, who died in 1983. Since then the value of CFP’s holdings of UPS stock rose steadily, peaking at $3.5 billion in 1999.

During the Clinton-era boom, CFP began to reposition itself from a west-of-the-Mississippi direct-service provider with deep pockets to an advocate for improving children and youth services. The shift, Massinga said in a November press release, was “based on a thoughtful, comprehensive analysis of our strategic direction.”

The direction of CFP’s shares of UPS stock, however, has been down. Half of that decline is the result of setting up the affiliated Marguerite Casey Foundation through a transfer (beginning in 2001) of stock then valued at $600 million.

CFP will close 10 local offices over the next decade in Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Montana, Oregon, Hawaii and its home state of Washington. For now, 16 offices will remain open, including its D.C. public policy shop, directed by Kathy Barbell.

The change in operations is caused by more than not having enough loose change in an endowment fund that ranks with that of the Hershey School (assets: $5 billion). Instead, says CFP Director of Communications Ida Hawkins, revamping CFP is a part of figuring out “how to use our dollars smarter.”

In 2000, CFP’s tax return reported 7,000 kids served; two years later due to CFP’s “intentional collaborative work,” the number was upped to 17,000. CFP’s new business plan is to “reach to over 100,000 children nationwide.” A press release quotes Massinga saying that those children will get the benefit of “our success as an expert and convener.”

Some child welfare observers question this self-assessment. In 1990, researcher Daniel Fanshel and others authored “Foster Children in a Life Course Perspective,” featuring alumni of CFP’s services who’d been interviewed. While in CFP foster care, 24 percent of the girls said they were victims of actual or attempted sexual abuse.

While that figure is not dramatically out of line with other agencies that provide foster care to teenagers, the numbers hardly qualify for what one former CFP staffer in Seattle calls “a kind of gold standard” for foster care. A 1998 in-house study found that all forms of abuse of children in CFP foster care amounted to “only” 12 percent of its youth.

But that’s ancient history. A new study, according to CFP Senior Director of Research Services Peter J. Pecora, shows that “in 2001, a total of 5.9 percent of Casey-served youth were reported to be alleged or confirmed victims of some kind of child maltreatment, including emotional maltreatment. This is a ‘duplicated’ count where a youth could have more than one report in that year.”

Just what exactly CFP’s thought process was, and how it hopes to evolve, is a murky question. Massinga, the agency’s CEO since 1989, will do “no interviews on this subject,” Hawkins says. (Not that any reporter other than from Youth Today has asked). That’s an ironic stance for an agency that three years ago launched a glossy magazine called Ask.

CFP’s “comprehensive restructuring,” Massinga says, will “devote more resources to impacting the state and national systems” that serve children. That would put a premium on collaborations, like the National Indian Children’s Alliance (NICA), which CFP helped launch in 2000 with grants totaling $1,628,842. The effort, says Terry Cross, executive director of the Portland, Ore.-based National Indian Child Welfare Association, is aimed at “building the capacity of tribes in providing homes and foster care” for Native American children.

But three years into the five-year effort, CFP pulled out – taking its final $600,000 commitment to the NICA along with it. “We were expecting it,” Cross says of the CFP pullout. Cross was able to replace the lost funding with grants from the Packard, Paul Allen and the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey foundations (which has no corporate links to CFP).

On the CFP office-closing list are reservation projects in Fort Berthold, N.D., and in Rosebud and Pine Ridge, S.D.

Recent grant recipients of funding from the Marguerite Casey Foundation (MCF), set up in 2001, further cloud CFP’s future intentions. Massinga chairs the board, which includes two CFP trustees plus four outsiders, including former Rep. Pat Schroeder

The foundation hired Luz Vega-Marquis as CEO in December 2001. On her resume is 17 years spent as a program officer at the Irvine Foundation’s Northern California office, where she earned a reputation as an astute, progressive grant maker.

An endorsement of Vega-Marquis was recently given by Bonnie Armstrong, the CFP’s former L.A.-based director of family and community development for the Western region. She makes, says Armstrong, “a real commitment to individual people and families at the other end” of her grant making.

The new foundation was expected to focus heavily on disadvantaged children and youth issues, especially keeping kids out of foster care. Some grants do just that, including those to the Larkin Street Youth Services ($100,000) in San Francisco, Chicanos por la Causa ($200,000) in Phoenix, and a “legacy grant” to the Massachusetts Department of Social Services ($1 million) to work with CFP on incorporating a “family-centered” approach to child welfare services.

Other grants, however, seem well off the social-welfare beaten path, including grants to the Chicago Children’s Museum ($300,000) and the Community Technology Foundation ($1 million) in San Francisco, where Vega-Marquis was executive director prior to her arrival at MCF. David Brotherton, director of communications for the foundation, says all the MCF grants (which last year totaled $18.5 million) are focused on the foundation’s “interest in preventing families from breaking up.”

Surprisingly, groups that promote community organizing in low-income neighborhoods have been receiving the majority of MCF’s largess. Among them, the D.C.-based Center for Community Change ($1.5 million), the 45-member Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches network ($360,000) and Southern Echo ($500,000) in Jackson, Miss.

That partial disconnect is disputed by Brotherton, who cites “the link” between organizing low-income communities and family preservation. And it may account for Tom David, a community organizing proponent and the former executive vice president of The California Wellness Foundation, signing on at MCF as director of organizational learning. Vega-Marquis serves as board chair at the Woodland, Calif.-based foundation.

The initial endowment of MCF has dropped to about $525 million. This year the foundation expects to award grants totaling between $20 million and $25 million.

Change Agent or Looming Monopoly?

If Casey Family Program’s long-term goal is to cut back on directly providing foster-care services, that’s just fine with out-of-family placement critic Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. “It would not be the first time a foster care agency changed its orientation. I think that’s excellent,” the proponent of kinship and family preservation services says of the new CFP approach to helping abused and neglected children.

With CFP basically mum on its future spending plans, speculation within the child welfare field is considerable. With a $2 billion endowment, CFP can reinvent itself however it pleases and run little risk of getting any backtalk from other child welfare stakeholders.

In a setup reminiscent of Hawaii’s Bishop Trust, CFP’s seven trustees are appointed for life. In 2000, the trustees reported they worked an average of 16 hours per week in their oversight capacity – a level of actual effort confirmed by insiders. But the pay, including deferred compensation, does set a social service agency “gold standard,” averaging $115,939 per year, or almost $2,000 per day worked. Massinga’s 2000 compensation and benefits topped $325,000, an amount not out of line with those of her philanthropic peers.

Well-heeled and shorn of much of its directly operated program expenses, CFP is perfectly poised to become an overpowering player in the areas of advocacy, research, training and technical assistance in the child welfare, juvenile justice and related fields.

As part of its cutbacks, CFP regional operational offices in Austin, Denver, Los Angeles and Seattle are closing. However, the D.C. office is expected to grow and will soon fill a vacancy for the vice president of national policy. Some observers expect that with CFP’s endowment relieving it of fund-raising pressures, its D.C. children’s policy presence will equal that of the Children’s Defense Fund or Child Welfare League of America. Both groups can handle the competition and, officially at least, will welcome a well-financed ally in Washington, where there is perpetual political and budgetary warfare on spending for children.

Nationwide, CFP will be able to offer training and technical assistance at little or no cost, compared with the fees charged by such national groups as Atlanta’s Child Welfare Institute, the Daniel Memorial in Jacksonville, Fla., or the National Resource Center for Youth Services at the University of Oklahoma/Tulsa.

Depending on CFP’s willingness to concurrently fund its competitors, CFP could wind up either boosting the capacity of other national groups for which kids count or, if operated like its Seattle neighbor, Microsoft, contributing to a “reduced headcount” of actors in the national child welfare field.

Contact: Casey Family Programs (800) 228-3559, www.casey.org.

USA Freedom Bore

In the beginning, there was compassionate conservatism, which begat the Armies of Compassion, which begat the faith-based initiative, which begat the USA Freedom Corps. More than six days in the making, USA Freedom Corps is the child protégé of a two-year evolution on national service by President Bush, shifting from vague campaign promises to an act of creation.

The Bush administration’s divine plan for citizen involvement in solving the nation’s domestic ills and repelling foreign threats was revealed by the president in last year’s State of the Union address. Said Bush, “To sustain and extend the best that has emerged in America, I invite you to join the new USA Freedom Corps” and give at least 4,000 hours of lifetime community service.

Among the first recruits drafted were the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the Peace Corps. Each is now under the Freedom Corps, directed by John Bridgeland, White House domestic advisor and special assistant to the president. Bridgeland is an affable 42-year-old former graduate student of then-Harvard conservative crime policy guru James Q. Wilson, who is fond of quoting John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.

Intended as a generator of domestic responses to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bridgeland’s office has become the boiler room from which the White House political arm, led by senior advisor Karl Rove, is attempting to revamp much of the federal volunteer effort. Says one Bush supporter who works closely with the USA Freedom Corps, “It’s all about the bully pulpit and branding” to show Americans that something is being done at home to involve everyone in fighting terrorism.

Repeated inquiries to USA Freedom Corp Communications Director Lindsey Kozberg for this story were not returned. At least it’s not the USA Freedom of the Press Corps.

Bridgeland’s USA Freedom Corps Council has had a lackluster first year. It has tried to establish itself as the tough political and policy traffic cop for the CNCS, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and the other programs under its jurisdiction.

In the 107th Congress, the White House proposed the Citizens Service Act to reauthorize CNCS and to increase its enrollment from 50,000 to 75,000, along with the CARE Act to promote grant making to faith-based service providers (and also encourage charitable giving through tax breaks). Neither of these proposals ever made it to the president’s desk.

Thus, most of Bridgeland’s efforts to date have been cosmetic. For example, in July the president announced something grandly called the USA Freedom Corps Volunteer Network, but the effort simply rounded up the usual volunteer and national service-promoting suspects, such as the United Way of America, the Points of Light Foundation (funded in part by the CNCS) and Youth Service America. But except for adding “USA Freedom Corps” to the title, the Volunteer Network already existed as part of the Points of Light Foundation.

“Don’t complain,” says one involved staffer. They could have set up a redundant effort instead of pretending this is something new.

With a budget last year of $2.6 million and a current staff of 14, the USA Freedom Corps will oversee the homeland security-based Citizens Corps.

The only initiative to which the USA Freedom Corps can claim parenting rights is the Citizens Corps. The president says it will enroll 400,000 trained volunteer rescue workers. The White House wanted $230 million for the sputtering effort, but GOP opposition in the House cut last year’s program to $25 million. Prospects for the fiscal year that began in October are little better, with a maximum of $30 million expected from Congress.

Administered through CNCS, the first Citizen Corps grants, totaling $21 million, were awarded in July. A few of the grants directly involve youth-service agencies, such as Baltimore’s Civic Works ($123,948) and New York City’s The Valley ($248,087).

One aborted Citizens Corps homeland security venture was the Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS) program, which officials said would be “enlisting millions.” Soon dubbed the “Spy Corps,” the surveillance program was to be funded with the $8 million from the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs.

But the effort to turn every truck driver and mail carrier into an official government informant was hammered to death on Capitol Hill by a coalition that stretched from liberal Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) to conservative Rep. Richard Armey (R-Texas), then the House majority leader.

But most of these efforts and grants (and much of the White House’s Homeland Security plans for citizen involvement) will rely on the CNCS to deliver. The recent history of CNCS illustrates the best and the worst of the president’s grasp of national service issues.

‘Sacrificial Lambs’

Appointed to chair CNCS’ 22-member board was former Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith, who, beginning in January 2001, worked as a special assistant to the president and put together the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. That office was directed until August 2001 by University of Pennsylvania professor John DiIulio and is now directed by Jim Towey, who reports to Bridgeland.

Appointed as CEO of the new CNCS was Les Lenkowski. A long-time member of the board of the federal national service effort, Lenkowski is a quirky conservative academic with a keen interest and expertise on national service issues.

The CNCS, under the then newly installed Bush administration, was well positioned to play a major role in the much-touted White House faith-based initiative. When DiIulio resigned in August 2001, much of his small staff was transferred to CNCS. Then came 9/11; faith was out and homeland security was in.

But with his agency’s reauthorization stalled in Congress, Lenkowski did his best to recast it as pursuing a more patriotic and culturally conservative vision of community service. One player says Lenkowski and Bridgeland want “to put their imprimatur on the service movement.” One symbolic change was to revise the AmeriCorps pledge.

All of that social engineering momentum came to a screeching halt just as the GOP won control of Congress. It seems that CNCS didn’t think it needed an additional appropriation to its education trust fund to pay education awards of $4,725 to those completing AmeriCorps service. That produced a freeze in the new enrollment of AmeriCorps volunteers that is now into its third month. More than 20,000 would-be volunteers are now on hold.

Everyone has an opinion on what went wrong, and CNCS’ new inspector general, J. Russell George, is tasked with finding out. Was it the White House Office of Management and Budget’s punt? (Oh no, goes the official party line.)

Or was it a matter of an overwhelming response to the president’s call to service? Or over-enrollment by CNCS grantees? Or the approaching seven-year limit for AmeriCorps’ earliest participants in cashing in their education awards? Or Congress failing to pass CNCS appropriations for the fiscal year that began in October? “Mixed together,” says a state commission executive director, “they made a perfect storm.”

It’s none of the above, rags a Democratic staffer on Capitol Hill who is immersed in national service issues. “I’ve heard nothing that passes the laugh test.” Rather, the staffer says, the White House wants to “build the numbers” of participants while “getting rid of paid volunteers.” AmeriCorps members earn $9,300 per year for 1,700 hours of service, plus the education award.

Perfect storm or not, Lenkowski quickly made civil servant heads roll. The chief operating officer, Wendy Zenker, was demoted to run the National Civilian Community Corps. Gary Kowalczyk was dumped as director of planning and program integration. By some accounts, the trust fund shortfall – a violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act – could reach $60 million. “They were sacrificial lambs,” says the Capitol Hill staffer of the ousted officials.

One important component of the CNCS operation is the 38-year-old VISTA program, which has some 6,000 workers throughout the nation (many involved in youth work). Unlike CNCS’ AmeriCorps and NCCC, recruiting for VISTA has been unaffected by the education trust awards budget shortfall for making education awards. Since 9/11, interest in VISTA has been strong. Congress is expected to increase VISTA funding by $9 million.

Voluntarily departing last July from his position as director of what is officially known as AmeriCorps VISTA was Matt Dunne. Dunne, 30, left the civil service job to run successfully as a Democrat for a seat in the 30-member Vermont Senate.

In December, Lenkowski turned to fellow movement conservative David Caprara. He was most recently the vice president of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon-controlled Washington Times Foundation (assets: $65,000) and of its bedfellow, the American Family Coalition, which organize conferences to promote conservative causes.

Finding a committed, qualified conservative to run an anti-poverty agency like VISTA is no easy matter, but Caprara’s résumé measures up on all counts. A former aide to Jack Kemp when he was secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Caprara ran the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development under Gov. George Allen (R), worked as a staffer at the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise,

run by conservative activist Bob Woodson, and reported to Director Charles Ballard while at the Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitalization.

Whether Caprara can get the typically liberal and authority-adverse VISTA volunteers to embrace Bridgeland and Lenkowski’s homeland security, faith-based agenda remains to be seen. VISTA, truth be told, has worked closely with religious groups since its founding in 1965.

The VISTA program has battle-tested friends in high places. Friends of VISTA is led in part by Mimi Mager, a former volunteer who knows how to push all the right political buttons on Capitol Hill and has no hesitancy to do so. Last year, as part of the CNCS reorganization, Lenkowski proposed a series of changes in VISTA’s mission and how it operates. Mager’s group derailed those changes, and is ready for a rematch with the Bush administration in the 108th Congress.

Caprara nominally reports to AmeriCorps Director Rosie Mauk, but one close observer notes that Mauk – who was chair in 2000 of Texas Democrats for Bush – “has not a lot of power,” noting that Lenkowski has fired or demoted most of her senior staff.

Overall, the first two years of conservative control of national service has resulted primarily in charges at the margins. The next two years could be a different story. But that storyline won’t follow the worst fears of national service advocates. At least President Bush is a firm supporter of the concept.

Contact: USA Freedom Corp (877) 872-26777, www.usafreedomcorps.gov.