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Ingénues Boss Parents

May 11, 2006 permalink

Following the death of Nixzmary Brown this January, New York City has been undergoing a foster care panic, meaning increased numbers of children are taken from their parents. This article from the New York Times shows how ACS has responded to the requirement for new workers. Parents who have spent years raising a child will be bossed by childless young workers with only a month's classroom training.



New Group of Child Welfare Workers Finish Fast-Track Training

ACS trainees

Nearly 200 newly trained workers of the city's Administration for Children's Services attended graduation ceremonies in Manhattan on Tuesday.

Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

The latest group of child welfare workers to finish a city training program since the death of Nixzmary Brown, a 7-year-old girl killed in her Brooklyn home, graduated yesterday, joining an agency that has promised to improve its investigations of child abuse.

The graduates, numbering nearly 200, are among 525 child protective workers that the agency, the Administration for Children's Services, has said it would add to field offices by the end of June. The city agreed to overhaul and expand the agency after taking criticism for failing to remove Nixzmary Brown from her family's apartment after teachers reported signs of abuse. The police have accused her stepfather of beating her to death, and he and Nixzmary's mother have been charged with murder.

Some of the graduates went through an intense four-week course, rather than the usual three months of training. The agency said the accelerated training was intended to get them out in the field in time to meet the goal and to ease caseloads for workers overwhelmed with cases. Calls reporting child abuse and neglect have increased 39 percent since Nixzmary died in January, the agency said, compared with the same period a year ago. With this latest class, the city has added 350 workers and has 175 more in training.

The usual training involves a month of classroom studies, followed by supervised visits to homes where abuse is suspected, followed by another month of classroom work. The trainees then take a test before they can be hired. In the accelerated track, trainees complete a month of coursework, then take the hiring test. They then slowly take on new cases, under supervision.

The graduation ceremony, held at the Hunter College campus on East 25th Street, drew caseworkers who had just completed their training and others who had recently begun working. The ceremony, a first for the agency, was held as a way of boosting morale, agency officials said.

Catiana Day, 23, a graduate who will work in the Brooklyn field office, said the accelerated training was intimidating, even though she had transferred from foster care work within the agency. Ms. Day said that her first visit to a family with a supervisor went better than she had expected, and that the coaching she got was essential.

Robinson Jean-Louis, 28, who came to the agency after working in private business, agreed that the accelerated course was challenging, but said it made students work as a team to pass their tests and the supportive environment should carry over into the job.

"It's a very difficult job," he said. "But this new crop is up for the task. We're intelligent, dedicated and eager."

Just as the new employees were celebrating, the caseworkers' union was preparing to picket on Friday to protest their work environment, which union officials said had become intimidating and punitive in recent months.

The union is angry that three employees involved in the Nixzmary case were fired and that three others were suspended.

"None had ever been in trouble before," said Faye Moore, a vice president for Local 371 of the Social Service Employees Union.

Agency officials said they were developing ways to make it easier for workers to do their jobs, which pay a starting salary of just over $36,000 and require a bachelor's degree. Since Nixzmary was killed, the agency has distributed cellphones to many workers who are out in the field and has begun supplying cars for workers.

Mr. Jean-Louis said he was in training as the news of Nixzmary's death and the agency's failings were being reported. The students, he said, are inspired to work hard to protect children, but frustrated and angry that the public does not recognize that child protective workers save lives, too. "Out of the millions of cases they do correctly, they don't get in the news," he said.

John B. Mattingly, the children's services commissioner, reminded the graduates of their responsibilities. "The very nature of our work means that you will make decisions that literally will mean the difference between life or death for a child," he said.

Source: New York Times