Where public meets private

Mark K. Shriver

December 15, 1992|By Mark K. Shriver

THE Los Angeles riots, the chaos in Crown Heights and the urban turmoil of the past year have made it abundantly clear that America needs a new approach to its urban problems.

Bill Clinton was elected largely because his campaign focused so resolutely on new solutions.

But to deliver on his promise of change, Mr. Clinton must not play the "either-or" game.

We can't spend four more years debating whether social services should be delivered by the public sector or the private sector. Instead, the president-elect should rely on each -- singly or in tandem -- to carry out his policies.

Here are some guiding principles:

A business approach. Public and private entities involved in social services still don't always realize they are businesses.

The social service field is a market with strong demands. We can no longer afford to rely on entities that are well-intentioned but poorly managed.

A strong rate of return. Groups that perform well should be financed; those that fail to prove their effectiveness should be cut.

For example, this year Congress increased the financing of Head Start, a Johnson administration program, after a 20-year study proved its cost-effectiveness.

Peter F. Drucker, a management theorist, cites a not-for-profit organization, the Judson Center in Royal Oak, Mich., as an example of an operation that provides a strong rate of return.

The center trains and pays women on welfare to rear two or three crippled or emotionally disturbed children.

Within five years or so, nearly 100 percent of these women are off welfare, employed as rehabilitation workers, and almost 50 percent of the children are rehabilitated.

According to Mr. Drucker, the center saves Michigan "$100,000 a year for each welfare mother and her charges -- one-third in welfare costs and two-thirds in the costs of keeping the children in institutions."

The Choice program, a public operation in Baltimore that is managed by the University of Maryland Baltimore County, supervises up to 350 delinquent youngsters a year in their homes, not in institutions.

Choice has grown despite the recession because public and private "financial backers" are convinced it generates a strong rate of return.

Kids in the program are re-arrested less than kids of similar backgrounds who are not in the program.

Moreover, when a youngster is removed from his home, taxpayers pay an average of $50,000 per year, while the cost per year for a Choice client is $6,100: an 800 percent difference!

While a strong business approach and efficiency standards are critical, the goal of social services is to produce successful people, not products.Thus, the final principle: personal responsibility. These programs must be able to inspire, modify and redirect behavior.

Sound difficult? It is, but there are success stories.

The New York City Commission on Homelessness proposed a number of ideas for not-for-profits to use to enforce personal responsibility.

For example, drug addicts would have to go through treatment in order to get an apartment.

In the Choice program, caseworkers foster responsible behavior by seeing each youngster -- boys and girls -- two to five times a day. The caseworkers do school checks and late-night curfew checks.

When a client goes anywhere he must leave a message on an answering machine. Caseworkers go where the client says he has gone, and if the client isn't there, the caseworkers find him.

This is called tracking and it goes on every day and every night. The message is clear: Responsible behavior is the only way to get a caseworker off your back.

Bill Clinton has a remarkable opportunity to shift the country away from the "either-or" proposition that has paralyzed us for so long. The change will make better use of scarce resources and improve the lives of millions of Americans.

Mark K. Shriver, founder and director of the Choice program, is on leave, studying for a master's degree in public administration at Harvard.

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