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By Terese M. Scofidio

The Erie County Department of Social Services is charged with the task of investigation and response to alleged instances of child abuse. As a county we look to one woman – Commissioner Carol Dankert-Mauer – and a severely overworked, understaffed and underfunded department to keep our children safe and our families strong.

As a community we have abandoned our most precious resource and our hope for the future. As a society we need to insist that families identified as being at risk are offered programs to provide adequate, consistent and long-term support and training. As a community, both professional helpers and regular citizens, we must insist that adequate resources are available.

Instead we criticize those knowledgeable, dedicated and selfless protectors of our community’s most vulnerable children for not being “all-knowing” – for not meeting the herculean task put before them. Our CPS workers are first responders who are first on site for calls of a serious nature, often risking violence or serious threats to self.

They are often hamstrung by too many regulations and very limited information. We expect them to resolve years’ worth of family dysfunction, mental illness or drug and alcohol abuse in a few hours of visits over an extended period of time. And when they do identify a family in great need, we give them limited, if any, resources to assist in turning the situation around.

The plan proposed by the commissioner begins to address the issues the department is facing. I urge the Legislature and county executive to support that plan and go even further. There must be increased funding in order to provide more programs for those in need before someone has to make a call to CPS. There must be early identification of high-risk children and families and then we must provide these new families with intensive emotional support and skill-building. This burden does not lie on the shoulders of only our county officials.

We are blessed to live in a community of dedicated, compassionate and highly trained professionals whose top priority is striving to assure the safety of our children and families. Local non-profit agencies are thoroughly committed to providing services to families and children hoping to keep them safe and secure in their increasingly more complex and fragmented lives.

We need to all work together during this time of crisis and not take the easy route of finding blame in our Department of Social Services without offering to be part of the solution. We must insist our elected officials step up to the plate and support the proposal to add 37 new workers to help prevent future cases of child abuse and neglect. And then ensure that they continue to find ways to enhance programs for our families, our children and our future.

Terese M. Scofidio is CEO of Baker Victory Services in Lackawanna.