About 180 activists and citizens gathered in front of the State House yesterday in memory of children killed by neglect or abuse.
The vigil was an attempt to encourage the lobbying of legislators and to inform the public of the number of children who have lost their lives because the Department of Social Services was unable to help.
Carol Brill, president of the newly formed Coalition to Save DSS and Our Children, a group working to reverse budget cuts that have affected the DSS, opened the vigil and set the tone for the day.
“We are here today to speak in one voice,” Brill said. “We are here to focus on the thousands of vulnerable children who are supposed to be under the care of DSS.”
Brill went on to say that the number of DSS workers had dropped to a “dangerous level.”
The vigil, the first event organized by the Coalition, included a reading of the names of the 112 children known to have died since 1978 as a direct result of child abuse and neglect. The names were also pinned to a banner.
While noting the banner, Brill led the crowd in chanting, “Do not add more children to this list!”
Throughout the event respect and remembrance were stressed, despite chants and interruptions from dozens of anti-DSS protesters.
As DSS workers and supporters read the names of the children lost to abuse and neglect, they raised their voices in an attempt to be heard over the chants of protesters. The protesting groups claimed many of the children being honored died while under the care and supervision of the DSS. They also asked why the children who died under DSS care were not being mourned.
Event organizers responded by reminding the crowd that the memorial was a forum for respect and honor.
The crowd was largely composed of DSS workers and other child welfare advocates. Kelly Backstrom, an intern at DSS Malden and a student in the masters of social work program at Salem State College, said the layoffs have affected the caseload in her office and morale both at school and work.
Due to the 2002 budget cuts, 12 percent of state DSS social workers have been laid off. The state budget for the 2002 fiscal year shows a $60 million cut in the social services budget, $3.5 million of which directly funds DSS social workers.
Brill’s final comment of the event proclaimed the Coalition’s willingness to fight the budget cuts until it wins.
“We’re going to be doing actions until we get some action,” Brill said.