Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series by participants in a free, public forum on Monday Feb. 28 at the University of Hawaii, bringing together authors from The Price of Paradise books from the 1990s and The Value of Hawaii collection of essays from last year. Learn more.

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Social services are those organized public and private programs that are designed to advance human welfare. They include benefits and services, such as food, housing, income supports, job training, health care, child care, violence protection and supportive interventions.

Most social services target needy children and adults, persons with disabilities, elderly and the vulnerable. Charitable and faith-based organizations in many communities provide supportive services, but they do not have the funds or capacity to provide sufficient services and they are not responsible to protect the rights of citizens guaranteed by law. That is what the government does, but things are changing.

In 1996, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the entitlement program started in 1935, changed from an entitlement to a block grant with a five-year lifetime limit for recipients. Congress decided welfare recipients should find work and get off of welfare regardless of their circumstances or their employment possibilities. Hawai‘i, since then has tremendous flexibility in designing its own welfare programs. Who should be eligible for what has become a local decision.

With this new approach also came a dramatic change in the way in which governmental services were provided. Hawai‘i began contracting with corporations and nonprofit organizations for previously considered, core governmental services: eligibility, IT, counseling, job training and childcare.

What has been happening? More families are floundering; homelessness is up; unemployment is up; food stamp applications are up; federal dollars are down and the state is broke! Social services in Hawai‘i, while never particularly well-coordinated, have become an even more fragmented array of patchwork programs that do not meet the needs. As the deficit looms, there are huge challenges ahead.

About the author: Susan M. Chandler is the Director of the College of Social Sciences Public Policy Center and a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. From 1995 to 2002 she served in Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano’s administration as the Director of Human Services. From 1976 to 2006 she was a Professor in the UHM School of Social Work. She teaches in the areas of public policy, network governance, community and organizational change, and policy implementation. She recently completed a book with Richard Pratt, Backstage in the Bureaucracy: Politics and Public Services (U of Hawai‘i P, 2010).