Before the County Legislature approves hiring 37 workers to handle the backlog in Child Protective Services, as suggested by Erie County Social Services Commissioner Carol M. Dankert-Maurer, members ought to get a thorough understanding of how and whether doing so will fix a broken system.
Dankert-Maurer must be reeling. She was summoned to appear before the Legislature’s Health and Human Resources Committee to answer lawmakers’ questions. And they weren’t easy ones.
Lawmakers wanted to know the same thing that has been on the minds of the public each and every time a child dies who was supposed to be under the watch of Child Protective Services.
Turns out, CPS had an open investigation into the welfare of 8-year-old Jacob Noe when he was stabbed to death, allegedly by his mother, on May 14 in their North Buffalo home.
The coincidence of CPS’ prior involvement in such cases drew the ire of two county lawmakers, Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca, and Legislator Lynne M. Dixon, I-Hamburg, who called for Dankert-Maurer’s resignation.
But the commissioner has a plan to hire 37 new employees to create three new CPS teams, comprising six CPS workers each, as well as a team leader and a clerical worker for each team. CPS already has 17 such teams, including one that was added during a reorganization of the Social Services Department that was requested by the county executive’s administration and approved by the Legislature in September.
The administration also wants to create 12 part-time investigator positions that would be held by former police officers and sheriff’s deputies. And there would be a coordinator for the three new teams.
CPS workers are overwhelmed. One former child welfare worker who resigned Friday for family reasons testified before the Legislature committee that there are CPS workers with as many as 100 cases. Even if she’s slightly off, and she likely isn’t, those numbers call for action.
But is adding staff the right action? It may be, but no one will know until all of the steps, facts and figures are presented. What is the exact plan of dealing with 1,000 new cases to investigate every month in a way that the work load can be handled effectively?
Effective means no children die on CPS’ watch. Instead, they thrive because they are getting the care and attention they deserve.
Maybe the problem does get solved by adding more workers. Lorigo made an excellent point that the administration’s plan to overhaul Social Services in September didn’t seem to work because it sacrificed more frontline workers for new managers.
Dankert-Maurer blames heavy caseloads on an unprecedented state audit of CPS, which was triggered by the beating death last fall of 5-year-old Eain Clayton Brooks, allegedly at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend.
Besides Jacob and Eain, there was 10-year-old Abdifatah “Abdi” Mohamud, who called 911 twice in one day to say he was in danger. He died in April 2012 when his stepfather beat him more than 70 times with a baker’s hardwood rolling pin. Child Protective Services was involved in Abdi’s case, too.
The problem is obvious. Fixing it is more complicated but it must be done before the unthinkable occurs, again. Pray, it doesn’t, but also act, but with details and a plan.