Child and Family Service

The good news is that Child and Family Service made the Top 250 The bad news is that Child and Family Service made the Top 250

August, 2005

The old saying “The way GM goes, so goes the country” captured both the mood and economic structure of the nation for more than 50 years. However, in Hawaii, the business that may be the indicator species for the state’s economic and social health may not be one of its Downtown Honolulu companies but the Ewa Beach-based Child and Family Service (CFS). The non-profit social services provider’s statewide revenues have nearly tripled from $11 million in 1997 to $32.7 million in 2004. CFS officials forecast this year’s revenues will reach $33.4 million and 2006 is expected to top out at nearly $39 million. In addition, staffing has increased 16 percent from 657 full-time, part-time and hourly workers in 2001 to 782 in 2005.

This revenue explosion, which propelled the more than 100-year-old organization onto Hawaii Business’s Top 250 list at No. 186 for the first time, would normally be a cause for celebration – and maybe a few executive bonuses. But at CFS, which services more than 46,000 Islanders statewide, the growth is reflective of the state’s significant and growing social needs, and maybe a flawed economy.

“Per capita, Hawaii has a very high number of children diagnosed with autism,” says CFS’s chief operating officer Patti Bates. “In addition, in the next 10 years we are going to see a significant increase in the amount elderly people needing our services. So that alone will create a crisis.”

Much of this exponential increase in revenue and staff at CFS is the consequence of the numerous Requests for Proposals that were the result of the 1997 Felix Consent Decree, the federal court’s supervision over how the state provided public education services to students with mental and emotional disabilities. In addition, in 2001, CFS began providing autism services as well as inaugurated its Healthy Start Program. However, over the past five years, CFS officials have noticed an alarming increase in domestic violence and drug abuse cases among their families. Curiously, much of it is happening in the middle of Hawaii’s recent economic boom.

“The great divide between the haves and the have-nots has increased substantially, especially in the last couple of years, during this so-called economic expansion,” says Geri Marullo, CFS’s president and chief executive officer. “We have people working two or three jobs just to make ends meet, so they’re working so much they don’t get to see their kids.”

According to Marullo, the burgeoning state economy is widening, not narrowing, the gap between rich and poor. Five years ago, one in five Hawaii children were born into families below the poverty line. Marullo says that today that number is closer to one in four. In addition, she says that as much as 70 percent of many Islanders’ income is devoted toward housing costs. In fact, she points to the lack of affordable housing as the number one stressor of Island households, a catalyst for much of the despair and resultant domestic violence and drug abuse.

“Who would have guessed 36 months ago that our housing market would explode the way it has,” says Marullo. “We have families who have to pay $2,000 a month in rent. Who can afford something like that? I can’t.”

However, Marullo and CFS aren’t taking these worrisome economic trends lying down. This fall, the organization will start a capital campaign to raise funds for the construction of an inter-generational learning center at its Ewa Beach headquarters. The facility, which will service children as young as eight years old, will help the younger generation to prepare for higher-paying jobs by working with the older generations.

“Employees are desperate for good labor. We have a bunch of kids, who are going to be graduating in 10 years, and we’re going to use the social capital of our retiree population,” says Marullo. “This is the new trend. Human services agencies are just as strategic as businesses. We are very focused on the future and where we need to be to capture opportunity.”

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David K. Choo