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Amateur Child Protection

October 1, 2008 permalink

That caseworker seizing your child could be an experienced typist, fitness instructor, gym teacher, postal worker, or debt collector. A newspaper in Fulton New York took the effort to find out the qualifications of staff hired by the local child protection agency. It is not much different anywhere else.



Many DSS caseworkers lacked experience when hired

A typist, a fitness instructor, a gym teacher, a postal worker, and a debt collector all became caseworkers for the Oswego County Department of Social Services. Two others worked in the office of the District Attorney and one is the wife of the District Attorney.

The Valley News made the request for the applications and/or resumes of all caseworkers Aug. 22, 2008, one week before the death of 11-year-old Erin Maxwell.

State Police say Erin was found in deplorable conditions with bags of garbage on the porch and over a hundred cats living inside the home. Friday, Salvatore Lanza, the family’s attorney, produced the official death certificate that shows Erin died of asphyxia as the primary cause of death. Sexual trauma is listed as a contributing factor.

The child’s home had been visited by a caseworker in 2006 and reportedly twice in previous years. One resident has been said to have called agencies in more recent months and alleged that he was told that they cannot tell others how to live.

Since the time it was learned that DSS had visited the home, the department has come under fire from the public for not removing Erin from the deplorable conditions.

The name of the caseworker involved in the Maxwell case has not been released, not even to Legislature Chairman Barry Leemann, who said he has been given little information in regard to the circumstances surrounding the girl’s death.

The applications provided by the county indicate that while all caseworkers now have a college degree, one-half of them had no experience in human services or a related field when hired and several had only a minimal amount of experience when hired.

Others came to the department well qualified with experience from other social-service agencies and some were welfare examiners prior to taking the civil-service test for the caseworker position.

Caseworkers are hired to entry-level positions, according to information provided by the county, at a current pay rate of $18.83 per hour. In-service training is provided and they work under the general supervision of a senior caseworker.

In order to qualify for the civil-service test, an applicant must have a been graduated from a regionally accredited or New York State registered college or university with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology, social work, human services, or a closely related field; or graduation from a regionally accredited or New York State registered college or university with a bachelor’s degree including 30 credit hours in the behavioral sciences.

One applicant was graduated with a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology with the only work experience listed as that of the owner of a fast-food restaurant. Another applicant with a degree in English worked as a bank teller, as a mental-health counselor for an apartment treatment program, and three years as a paint-project advisor with the home-improvement store Chase-Pitkin prior to receiving employment with the county.

An applicant with college credit but no degree worked as a bill collector, an insurance agent, a forklift operator, and “ran a machine that paints the various wall accessories” prior to being hired as a caseworker. That application did list a two-month internship with the county probation department.

The caseworker exam does provide for a combination of education and experience.

According to Patty Familo of the county personnel office, there was a time when candidates could apply prior to finishing their required college course work. “Sometimes what we did was announce it conditionally,” she said. “You could apply if you were about to finish your degree.”

Some counties go beyond the state’s minimum qualifications and mandate a year of actual Social Service experience.

“We don’t do that,” Ms. Familo said. “If we wanted to and we had the candidate pool, we could raise the qualifications. We’ve never had such an overwhelming response that we’ve had the luxury to do that.”

Ms. Familo said that while she believes Oswego County requires qualifications that are higher than some, she acknowledged that there are those who may have qualifications that are higher than the county.

Leemann said the legislators do not get into the every-day operations of the Department of Social Services but added that it may warrant a further review.

“If there appears to be a problem, the legislators will have to look into it,” he said.

The Valley News requested the applications of all caseworkers based on another allegation from another person that DSS had failed to respond properly to situation similar to the Maxwell case.

In that matter, an infant was living in a cockroach-infested home with a dozen cats, a pit-bull, and a pet rat that was allowed to roam freely through the home.

The complainant was able to provide photographs of the living conditions as well as voice messages from hospital personnel who were assisting with efforts to remove the child from the home.

Although the complainant alleges that DSS refused to remove the child from the home, the father of the child, who resided in another county, was able to recently secure custody and the child is now living in a clean environment.

Source: Valley News, Fulton New York

Addendum: A reporter in Texas did another report on qualifications, this time finding criminals working as child protectors.



At Least 370 Texas CPS Workers Have Criminal Histories

Assault, burglary, driving while intoxicated, theft, domestic violence, indecent exposure and prostitution, possession of cocaine and marijuana, selling alcohol to minors -- what do all of these crimes have in common?

They are just some of the crimes committed by people who work for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the agency in charge of protecting the state’s children.

KEYE Investigates found at least 370 employees have a criminal background, and some have direct contact with foster children.

Romanus Ike was one of Ashley Gallardo’s caseworkers when she and her brothers were in foster care. Yet her brothers requested a different caseworker soon after Ike’s assignment.

“He was really uncomfortable to be around, really, he always wanted to be a little too close,” she said.

That was about a year after Ike was arrested and charged with indecent exposure. He was caught performing a sex act on himself in a public park. He later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct and paid a $500 fine.

Gallardo said such conduct should rule out anyone from being able to decide what is best for vulnerable children.

"At that time, I'm a young girl, going to school, and what he did was disgusting,” she said. “It's really just perverted, and it's disgusting. That's all I can say. Like how could anyone let him be around kids? That's just gross."

She first learned about his arrest when she decided to do some research at the courthouse. Gallardo said she was shocked to find a couple of her former caseworkers also had criminal histories.

"God, this guy was in my life,” she said. “He was in charge of me and my brothers. He made decisions for us."

It was no secret that at the time of his arrest Gallardo worked for Child Protective Services. It was written on his bail bond in 1998, and he's still working as a caseworker. A conviction of disorderly conduct would not bar someone from employment.

Richard Landon was arrested for indecent exposure in 1997, and in 1994 he was arrested for prostitution after soliciting an undercover cop. He works for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services as a systems analyst.

Cordelia Jones works for Statewide Intake, the 24 hour abuse/neglect hotline. She is currently probation for a drug possession charge out of Williamson County She is on probation for a drug possession charge in Williamson County.

CPS investigator Cynthia Crayton has numerous criminal cases in her background, mostly thefts by check. She still owes $193 in fines for driving with an invalid license.

David Mendoza pleaded guilty to assault with bodily injury to a family member and violation of a protective order. He is a CPS supervisor in El Paso.

The number of employees with criminal histories is small compared to the total number of those employed by the Department of Family and Protective Services. Most offenses were misdemeanors.

The most common offenses were thefts by check and DWI.

KEYE’s search revealed some financial crimes such as forgery, fraud, credit-debit card abuse, larceny and shoplifting. In addition to DWI, there were cases of marijuana, cocaine and controlled substance possessions. Some employees were charged with failure to identify a fugitive from justice, interference with the duties of a public servant, interference of an emergency call, evading arrest, and hindering apprehension or prosecution. Several cases were burglary related. There were also violent offenses such as assault, assault with bodily injury and assault of a family member.

The findings caught the attention of State Rep. Patrick Rose, who said “it's unacceptable."

Rose is in a position to push for change. He chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, which oversees the agency.

"I think there are several solutions,” he said. “The first is to make sure we get all background checks across all states and any convictions. We can do that by requiring FBI fingerprint background check on the front end upon employment. And as we move forward, we have to have annual background checks here to make sure all current employees that have direct access to kids don't have these convictions.”

The department conducts criminal background checks in the state when someone is hired. Employees are then required to report their arrests or convictions. Annual background checks are conducted on approximately 250 employees whose jobs are to approve foster homes for the placement of children.

Rose said he would like to see better coordination between the justice system and CPS. One idea would be to require local jurisdictions to immediately notify the department when an employee is arrested, charged or convicted of a crime. The department could decide if any immediate action should be taken.

Gallardo said she thinks that is a good idea. She added that it’s important for those who have contact with foster children or are responsible for making life-changing decisions on their behalf be closely screened and monitored.

"We trust these people,” Gallardo said. “They are all we have in the end, because we're just taken away from out families, and that's all we have."

Source: KEYE-TV-42 Austin Texas