Almost three decades ago, the federal government invested money in training and infrastructure development for child protection in the Virgin Islands. It was the beginning of the modern era of protecting youngsters from abuse and neglect. The then Department of Social Welfare was the focal point of this effort. Among the initial group of dedicated professionals in the dpartment was a young woman whose hallmarks were intelligence, judgment and a quiet determination and commitment to improving the lives of the most vulnerable children. Her name was Dilsa.
Flash forward 25 years to the Source report on Dilsa Capdeville and her St. Thomas agency, KidsCope — "Because clients come first, KidsCope is in crisis". Ms. Capdeville has refused to accept a grant that would have kept her agency open but forced her to dilute services beyond the point of reason. Exactly who mandated what is not quite clear, but there is a larger point here. In our age, this kind of decision can only be described as extraordinary, and it is clear that the Dilsa of a quarter century ago has not been compromised by the system.
We live — and have lived for a number of years — in a time when government at all levels increasingly demands — and is only willing to pay for — the illusion of necessary public services. Whether we call it "government lite," the illusion created by the Clinton administration that vulnerable people were really being helped, or "compassionate conservatism," the fraud perpetrated by President Bush to make sure that the comfortable classes don't feel any guilt, it masks the ongoing disintegration of services to society's most vulnerable members.
For a variety of understandable reasons, human services agencies generally go along with the program, doing the best that they can to at least stay in business.
Ms. Capdeville in refusing this grant is taking a heroic stand. The term "hero" is greatly misused in our culture, but in this case it is the correct one. It is also an accolade that she has earned with an unwavering commitment throughout her career. She is refusing to be a party to the hoax that you can constantly "do more with less."
And she is forcing the community — and government — to hold a mirror up to itself. How can anyone ever say "the children are our future" if we are unwilling to spend the pittance required to support critical services for the most vulnerable of these children? We know enough about abuse and neglect to be able to say without any equivocation that early and effective intervention makes a critical difference in improving the life-chances of an abused or neglected child.
Governor Turnbull has recently said that the territory is not in fiscal crisis. Taking him at his word, why can't the money that the government has just saved by rescinding his and the Senate's raises be applied to the protection of these vulnerable children and the assured long-term survival of KidsCope? Why can't a company such as Innovative, which found $300,000 to train a politician to no apparent purpose, fund this agency through its foundation?
For St. Thomas, with a population of approximately 50,000 people, keeping KidsCope in business — and making a huge difference in the lives of these youngsters — comes out to less than $1 per month per capita. There are lots of ways to slice this; but in the end, what Dilsa Capdeville has done is to challenge the heart of the community, as well as the oft-stated commitment of both the federal and territorial governments to young people. It will be interesting to see who steps forward — and who, in the end, is able to feel some sense of pride when they look in the mirror that she has held up.
Editor's note: Management consultant Frank Schneiger has worked with V.I. agencies since 1975, most recently as consultant to United Way of St. Thomas/St. John. He was one of the founders of the St. Thomas/St. John Youth Multiservice Center.
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