By Kathleen M. Rog

I attended the Nov. 14 public hearing examining recent practices, and tragic outcomes, of Erie County Child Protective Services. I also agree with the state’s findings that “caseworkers did not take appropriate actions,” which led to these deaths. Caseworkers failed “to conduct meaningful interviews” or to make “thorough and complete assessments of the family and children.”

I have worked with this agency for the duration of my 27-year career, and cannot deny that these shortcomings are more frequent than the public would be comfortable in knowing. In my current position, I am the primary contact with CPS once a call is made on families whose infants are in our care. A tool has been devised to track parental involvement – quantity and quality.

In selected cases over the years, precise documentation by a number of professional staff has been provided to caseworkers that speaks of numerous risks to a child who is allowed to be discharged to the parent(s).

These instances of lack of due diligence discourage professionals from trusting a system that does not protect the children. Several years ago I presented to CPS staff on these issues and made recommendations, but no real changes occurred.

Admittedly, the caseloads are too high, and staffing is often wanting, but the real shortfall is in the qualifications of those hired. My recommendation is that caseworkers should be required to have a master’s degree in social work. In many states this is already the norm. This degree ensures critical thinking skills, education in early childhood growth and development, family dynamics, physical, emotional and behavioral disorders, including substance abuse disorders, life transition stressors, interventions with parents to support bonding and attachment, research, documentation and listening skills as well as experience with a variety of populations prior to earning the degree.

In 2006, testimony from the National Association of Social Workers before the Subcommittee on Human Resources stated, “Social work is the largest and most important social service profession in the United States. The most commonly reported practice areas … are mental health [37 percent]” and child welfare/families [13 percent].” It goes on to state, “A number of studies have documented the critical connections between training, competency and quality services.”

Admittedly, hiring this caliber of professional will initially be more costly, as will paying for a caseworker and a mental health professional, as well as importing trainers on a regular basis to continue training.

But well-educated professional social workers could ultimately reduce the costs in childhood deaths and chronic neglect or abuse. Aren’t our children worth it?

Kathleen M. Rog is a licensed clinical social worker.