The following opinion piece appeared in The Cincinnati Enquirer on April 8.
I started my career in child welfare in 1993, at the tail end of a crack cocaine epidemic that ripped apart America’s families and filled the child welfare system with abused and neglected children.
Still, today’s workers are challenged with much more complex family problems. Heroin has replaced crack, the numbers of individuals living with untreated mental illness is on the rise, poverty persists and today’s young parents are often one more generation removed from anything near a parental role model.
That is why training is so crucial. We spend months preparing workers for the challenges of assessing safety. We develop policies, procedures, practice models and more to help guide them. In addition, we provide ongoing support and refresher courses to keep them up to date.
We do our work knowing that failure has unimaginable consequences: the potential loss of a precious life.
Two high-profile child deaths in the past couple of weeks have thrust our agency into the spotlight. The prosecutions that await and the confidential – by law – nature of our work prevent us from much public comment, but know that we are thoroughly examining the details of our work and will hold ourselves accountable should we have acted differently.
I also want to take this opportunity to discuss publicly work we are doing to better prepare ourselves to make the difficult decisions around child safety and a parent’s ability to not only properly parent, but protect from harm.
It is not as simple as one might think. Removing children from the only family they know and love – despite what troubles they may have – has consequences, too. Often, you are simply adding to the cycle of dysfunction; a disconnected child will grow to become a disconnected adult. This has been recognized both legally and in sound practice: Children do best with their families if they can live safely with their families.
That is a big if. And it is our job to determine it.
In addition to a myriad of state-mandated trainings and additional local offerings we have established, we have been working with a national organization, Action For Child Protection, a child welfare consulting group dedicated to providing quality education and technical assistance to child welfare organizations around the nation.
Action For Protection was first established in 1984. The group has over 31 years’ experience in child welfare and offers assistance in a wide range of areas, including training, expert case reviews, program and practice model design, policy and procedure development and workload management.
Its work with us is centered on:
•Increasing the information collected to assist in safety decisions.
•Increasing training on safety decisions and the framework for making those decisions.
•Clarifying and enforcing policies.
•Enhancing training for new staff and developing new training for veteran staff.
•Increasing field visits and observation by managers and administrators.
•Creating learning labs for managers to learn critical thinking skills.
•Instituting quality assurance strategies.
I believe this additional consultation will better equip our workforce for dealing with the incredibly complex family situations they encounter and the tough decisions that need to be made. But this is a never-ending learning journey.
We deal with more than 17,000 children a year. Each child is in a vulnerable situation that involves one or more volatile issues. We will make dozens of decisions with each of those children over the course of our involvement.
My goal is that every decision is the right one. Our No. 1 priority is that every child is safe.