|The other day I heard a story that shows with great clarity the beauty, challenge and occasional cruelty of working in the public sector for DHS. It was a story about one of our child welfare workers who was responsible for transporting children in temporary foster care to a family visit with their mother. The location was at a local fast food restaurant so they could have some normal family time together instead of meeting in the strange environment of a branch office. Since this wasn't a supervised visit she got them settled in and went to wait in the car while this family had some much needed private time together.
Of course, she had used a clearly marked state car for the transport, and I'm sure most of you know what happened to her in that parking lot because many of you have been through something similar.
DHS workers exemplify the best of public service
An angry Oregon taxpayer approached the car and criticized her for driving a state car to a restaurant. I imagine she got an earful about wasted dollars and lazy workers. She got a lecture about overspending and lack of oversight. She learned this gentleman's opinions about politicians, government and the state of the state.
And through it all, she remained silent. She did not defend herself because as a public worker she holds a sacred public trust to protect the identities of the children in her charge and a mother who was trying to get better enough to rebuild her family. To explain to the gentleman that she was there on state business would have opened the door to questions she couldn't answer. So she remained silent.
This story is particularly heartbreaking because the worker is just starting her career in public service. I can understand why too often people stay away from our agency because who needs that abuse? But I hope she will stick it out because the work we do is critically important to our state and I hope she will see that the rewards of service far outweigh the risk of public ridicule, uncertain funding for services and the seemingly unending battle to adequately invest in Oregon families.
I know that this week it can be particularly difficult to remember the rewards of public service as we face further declines in revenue announced today and the pay cuts announced yesterday. But over the next several months when I get discouraged I am going to remember the story of the child welfare worker and her commitment to that family even in the face of personal attack. I will also remember that DHS serves more than one million Oregonians every year, which means that chances are very good that at some point, the gentleman in this story will need the help of a public servant. Whether because of job loss, a public health threat, injury or old age, he may find himself counting on another state worker. And I know we'll be there.
I also want to let you know that the Office of Human Resources is working quickly to put together information for us all about the impacts of salary actions and we will have more details for you next week. In the meantime, please remember that if you have more immediate concerns, please send them to DHS HumanResources@state.or.us, or call Louise Melton-Breen at 503-947-5071.