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Mendocino County Today: April 14, 2012

ACCORDING to Linda Williams of the Willits News, Mendocino County is a lot richer than we look, with a reported gross income for 2010 of $1.377 billion with as much as another $675 million chipped in on top of the billion from the dope business, or underground economy. Factor in the many people who work off the books and we seem to be in fat city.

GOLDILOCKS, aka “Pixie” (real name Jacqueline Audet) was arrested again for drunk in public on Thursday, this time in Fort Bragg. Considering that her first drunk in public arrest occurred when Pixie was only 19 (when it’s supposedly illegal for her to buy her own booze), she’s on her way to setting some kind of record for most drunk in public arrests. She’s certainly got more than any one else her age already — and in Mendocino County, that’s really saying something.

STACY CRYER, Mendocino County’s Director of Health and Human Services reported last Monday that Mendo had 8.3 children entering foster care due to child abuse per 1000 children compared to the state average of 3.3 per 1000 children. Ms. Cryer then gave some “possible reasons” for differences in various counties: “each county’s service array, standards of evidence, law-enforcement removals, demographic risk factors,” and “a variety of other policy/practice differences.” Ms. Cryer added, “This county is similar to other Northern California counties with the marijuana issue. When you look at Mendocino County and compare it with Humboldt County we look more in line.”

SUPERVISOR DAN HAMBURG: “According to the entry rates by county we are about double Humboldt. I thought you said we were about the same. How can we be so different? I see where we are about the same as Trinity or Mariposa.”

MS. CRYER: “When you look at the numbers that are off the spectrum we are more like the average that you see in Northern California than the Bay Area.”

SUPERVISOR HAMBURG: “You mentioned marijuana. And it's been brought to my attention that a lot of times rather routine marijuana cases involve children being removed from homes. I just wonder, is that a factor in Mendocino County where it's not as much in Humboldt County which is also a marijuana county? I'm just curious. I noticed that big discrepancy between us and Humboldt County over the weekend when I was reading this. But I just don't understand why.”

SHERYN HILDEBRAND, HHS staffer, groped around for possible explanations, none substantiated by anyhing: “One of the main factors is education. Different departments use different systems for bringing children in. So it's more standardized. One of the things that stood out was education. Some counties really make a push on educating people about child abuse prevention. So you have an awareness and you have this village raising your children and you need to protect and you need to make sure that children are becoming a priority as we are asking you to do as a county. When you make children our priority you are looking out for them and your standards become higher as to what we will accept as to what is abuse and what is not abuse, so I think that that is at the state level what we were coming up with. We can go all the way to individual opinions about whether it is our drug problem which is certainly a factor. All four of these northern counties are two or three times the state average. It’s rural areas. You have more drug problems in this area which I think our department will say that 80% of any child that comes into the system, there is substance abuse involved. It does not need to be meth, or marijuana. It could be alcohol too. But one of the more significant factors is awareness. We need to make sure that everybody understands what child abuse is.”

SUPERVISOR HAMBURG: “I just keep bringing up this issue of Humboldt because Humboldt is kind of similar to us demographically and in terms of their substance abuse issues. The rest of them kind of makes sense. But that one just sticks out as a big fat anomaly.”

SUPERVISOR JOHN McCOWEN didn’t know either, but felt obligated to throw in his guess: “We may have a higher level of awareness of what constitutes child abuse and a higher number of people who are ready to act on that knowledge because frankly the difference between Humboldt and Mendocino, while I agree demographically that it ought to be pretty similar, but it's hard for me to believe that we have two and a half times more child abuse than Sacramento.”

MS. CRYER guessed as well: “You could have more people reporting. And more awareness around that.”

SUPERVISOR McCOWEN: “So maybe that what comes across as normal or acceptable might be a much higher threshold in some of these other areas than it is here locally.”

MS. CRYER also reported that the number of children in foster care for over two years has gone down from about 120 in 2004 to about 67 in 2011. “That’s almost in half. A positive trend. Positive movement as far as entry rates or number of children in the system longer.”

SUPERVISOR HAMBURG: “The overall number for California has been cut in half over the last three years and there's a story there. Maybe we don't have time to go into it.” (We don’t know either, funding cuts for foster homes and foster families probably have a lot to do with it.)

MS. CRYER: “Probably not.”

SUPERVISOR HAMBURG: “It's very interesting. I bet that's not a simple equation.”

SUPERVISOR McCOWEN: “I wonder if some of this coincides with the real decision by the state to really emphasize family reunification. Where maybe that has not been as strongly emphasized previously. Has the timing got anything to do with that?”

BRIAN LOWRY, Deputy Director of Children's Services: “We have focused on better practices. We are trying to get standardized practices across the state.” Then Lowry made generic reference to attorneys, courts, families, and the reunification process is very important, adding, “Now we're focusing on more voluntary services, more front-end services.”

SUPERVISOR JOHN PINCHES: “The lady from Air Quality said recently that they had hundreds of millions of dollars to spend to retrofit and replace trucks and so forth. This shows where we've really prioritized where we are with our children. We talk about making old people and children first. In politics it's popular to talk about how they are first. But the reality when it comes to the budgetary process is that they are really last. And they have been for quite some time. And I don't see anything changing. I don't put much faith in any of these statistics. It boils down to how you tell with any individual child whether they are in a crisis. It comes down to family values. We have observed the breakup of the American family probably going on now for at least 40 years. We can blame it on drugs. We can blame it on jobs changing. The husband and the wife have the breakdown of the family and the changes in social values. That has a lot to do with it. It's really depressing to me because in general, we all have certain emphasis, I guess, emphasis of success as was indicated here today. But when you look at the big picture we are basically failing. I think that as soon as we admit rather than creating another program and another funding source, we have to take a step back and say what can we do to keep families together. I know I always had the rancher’s perspective on everything. In the livestock business a cow and a calf is really good until you separate them across the fence and they can’t get together. Then everything started happening that's really bad. It's really a simple process. I don't know whether it means creating more jobs or whatnot. We have to do something to deal with the basic process. It starts with the breakup of the family unit. Somehow we have to do more with that that instead of creating more programs that deal with the afterthought and the mess that is created. We need to do more to keep the family values and to keeping families together. I'm going to stop there because I don't really have any answers.”

SUPERVISOR McCOWEN: “Unfortunately, there is a breakdown in the family structure. Parents are not always as responsible as they ought to be. That's where Health and Human Services and our community partners come in. It's not the ideal but it's what has to be done when the family falls apart.”

MENDO puts more kids in foster care

Than most other counties are even aware

Is it the abuse

That’s hard to reduce?

Or is Mendo just full of hot air?

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