Human Services Newsletter

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Thoughts From The Director: May Edition, 2020

                       “The Best of Us….”

In times like these we learn a lot about ourselves and others.  Some of what we learn is disheartening, and reminds us that the “rugged individualism” often thought of as the bedrock of our Americanism isn’t always what is needed when the focus is on what is best for all of us, not just for some. On the other hand, many of us have come to understand that being a unique individual doesn’t preclude ongoing, albeit painful, sacrifice for the greater good.

New Jersey has been living with social distancing for almost 6 weeks as we go to press.  I’ve been incredibly impressed with the dedication, creativity and fortitude exhibited by our human services family.  The efforts being made daily by our human service affiliated local non-profit organizations (to say nothing of our 10 County HS Divisions) are inspiring.  Methods of working have been reinvented, staff (particularly our group home worker compadres as well as our Board of Social Service and Richard Hall employees) have bravely stepped up to continue to care for their clients- sometimes in person - even at a time when adequate PPE was a day-to-day question (fortunately this has improved somewhat in the last 2 weeks). 

It can be difficult to fathom the sometimes overtly anti-science and dangerously undercutting messages encouraging “liberation,” as though the intention of our Governors (with our New Jersey Governor at the fore) is to repress the public and move us towards some dystopian vision of “deep state” control.  While such sweeping orders should perhaps always be viewed with initial skepticism, when they are data driven, clearly designed to protect the public from a level of viral spread that would do permanent damage to thousands (more) of our citizens, observance and sustaining follow through are critical. Timing matters, particular closure choices can be debated (public parks, for example, reopening with some restrictions as we publish) and there is no “one right answer.”  Are there consequences for following the science?  There are, just as there are consequences for (in this writer’s opinion) getting a late start on mitigation and containment and overtly competitive quests for PPE that pit government entities against each other.  The concerns about a prolonged period of “staying at home” are legitimate.  In addition to the economic free fall (which punishes our least well-off residents more than any others) there have been, we believe, increases in domestic violence and child abuse, as already pressured and stressed partners and parents become even more so.  Everything is magnified, so almost every “pre-existing condition” is ratcheted up: health vulnerabilities, struggles with substance use, anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges, family and marital conflict, etc.  We will not come out of this COVID-19 tunnel unscathed.

And yet…stories of hope and inspiration abound.  I have heard and seen wonderful things happen in this month of April. Many members of our Somerset County community have bonded together to get food to those who need it, connect frustrated and anxious residents with services, and network, brainstorm and collaborate.  With the possible exceptions of our Department of Health and OEM staff, members of our Human Services Department and our affiliated community non-profits have extended themselves in ways that are the very definition of dedication.

There is something qualitatively different, especially in the helping professions, about being able to look someone directly in the eye, unseparated by a video screen.  We all are eager for those days to return and, if we guard against prematurity, they will.  Our delivery system just isn’t the same without human beings, in a shared space, connecting with each other.  I don’t know about you all, but I promise not to complain about “too many meetings” when we eventually return to whatever will be our “new normal.”

As I said at the outset- in times like these we learn a lot about each other.  I admire what I’ve learned about the folks who work in human services. 

To a brighter day!

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