DEAR DSHS – THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN

by V. Buritsch-Tompkins

I’m trying very hard not to be extremely confused at the moment.

The area I live in is packed with people, so it makes sense that all of the daycares I contacted for care for my son in a post-crisis emergency are unable to take new children.  I understand, I get it.  But I’m in a crisis situation.  There’s a lot of emotional support available for Washington residents through 211, and other resources.

But the physical support is only 50% there for people IN the crisis. It’s more than some other areas, and I’m highly grateful for the resources that I’ve located over the last few days.

If you find yourself without childcare, you may call 2-1-1.  They will send you here:

Child Care Aware

Child Care Aware is a great resource as a generic database for registered, licensed child cares in your area, as well as some home cares.  It’s nice, but it was a bit inaccurate.  Due to a glitch in the YMCA information, it listed the YMCA 7 times, when only one serves the school my son goes to, and is taking open enrollment for NEXT year, but has no slots this year.

(As an aside – For my son’s sanity, it makes no sense to yank him out of his current school so close to the end of the school year.  On top of all of the other turmoil going on in his life, it’s the last thing he needs.)

The current school he goes to provided a list of known providers in the area, but it didn’t differentiate between those that offer before/after care, and those who are just preschool.  So I called it through.  I think I managed to call some of the centers twice.  I know that I called one at least three times.  I visited two in person.

It’s about then that I started to run out of options.  I can either send him back to live with his other parent AND try to work with my job to buy myself more time to get him before-and-after care, putting him BACK in the same scenario that I took him out of.

I can look into private babysitters who might be able to watch him and shuffle him to school, who are almost completely out of my price range for daily care.

Which leads me to DSHS.

I tried contacting DSHS a little bit before all of this started happening.  I knew that my son would come to live with me soon, but was told that I could not apply for daycare services until he did.  I was also told that I could not apply in advance, and not to try. I was told that his other parent could, but if something changed suddenly, my only option was to put in an app online and/or call in.

At this point, I was in a crisis situation with no access to internet for personal use for almost 24 hours.  I caught myself calling them on less than 4 hours of sleep and acting completely unlike myself – rude and childish, and frustrated with the DSHS rep on the phone.  (She misunderstood that I was vaguely aware that I might be eligible for food, but my only major need was daycare assistance. I received a callback from a supervisor, but was unable to take it – like I told her, I was going in to work, so I wouldn’t be able to take the call.)  It was the ugliest I have been in a long time.  I cannot pretend that I was being nice.  When I called back, I was contrite, but still frustrated.  The representative did eventually transfer me to the “application” phone line, but by then I didn’t have any time left to wait.  I had killed over an hour and a half with reps that could have just transferred me to the application line.

I eventually got to a computer to put in an application .  Twice.   You must use the “Save for later” button as often as possible, folks: it allows you to go back to the application in progress, but there is NO auto-save of its own.

Eventually, I managed to get an interview over the phone.  I was told that I needed to get stubs and look into childcares in the area, so, as mentioned above, that’s what I did.  It was faxed over on Thursday.  Thanks to a systemwide outage on Friday, I have no clue as to the status of my application.  I can’t check my benefits online, because I don’t have a Washington Client ID yet.  On Monday, I still have to find care for my son, for Tuesday.

If I’m over the limit, and I was told on Friday, great, thanks, I can move on with my life – I’ll be strapped for cash, find it difficult to care for my son, but I’m not sitting on my hands. If I’m under the limit, then I might be able to find a babysitter to offer him care and transport to school with a copay, someone who I wouldn’t be able to afford on my own.

I’ve been frustrated, annoyed, angry, worried, scared, hopeful, and now I’m just confused.  What other resources are left?  What did I miss?  If the best thing for my son is to bring him out of his current situation, for his own emotional health, then why am I so powerless to make it happen?  What resources am I missing?  What options am I missing?

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