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May 17, 2014 permalink

From New England here are two different stories showing the same problem: innumeracy.



DCF Inadequately Preparing Child Welfare Workers

With the ongoing crisis of abuse and neglect-related deaths in the commonwealth, it’s a miserable time to be a child welfare worker in Massachusetts. Truth is, it’s rarely a good time, anywhere. Several other states are in the middle of full-blown child welfare crises; nationwide, 30 to 50 percent of all children who die from maltreatment were previously known to child protective services.

Child welfare work is demanding, the pay is low, caseloads are high, colleagues come and go, the work can be dangerous, and human error can result in tragedy. It is challenging to protect children in this type of work environment and yet that’s the number one goal of the job. The majority of the time, children are protected, but every worker has the same fear of seeing a client’s name and face on the front page of the morning paper. And yet in general, the profession does a poor job of preparing workers to avoid this crisis.

In 2010/2011, I conducted the only large-scale, multi-state study on fatal maltreatment with 426 child welfare workers; 72 percent said they worry a child on their caseload will die. Only 42 percent knew that children are more likely to die from neglect than from abuse; only 20 percent knew that mothers are more likely to be responsible for their children’s deaths than other caregivers; and only 38 percent knew that children are more likely to be killed by a family than a non-family member. This reveals a significant gap in knowledge. I also found that there was no difference in knowledge between workers who reported receiving training and those who did not.

Critics often point to workers’ relative youth and inexperience as potential reasons for fatalities. But, in my study, workers who had a client die had been in the field for six years and were in their late 30s. Further, over half had a degree in social work and another third had a degree in the social sciences.

With results like these, the next question is obvious: Where do child welfare workers receive information on maltreatment fatalities? As it turns out — almost nowhere. My colleagues and I examined 24 child welfare and social science textbooks for inclusion of content concerning fatal maltreatment. We also examined pre-service child welfare training curricula from 20 U.S. states. We found that a minority of textbooks address risk factors for fatalities. Only one state had a dedicated section on fatalities in their pre-service training, but, that one state did not provide evidence-based information to workers about risk factors for death. Instead, the training described the social and demographic characteristics of the children in their state who had died.

It’s easy to say that child welfare agencies are failing children, but it’s also largely inaccurate. Thousands of children live more safely with their families because of help they received from child protection services. It’s true that child welfare agencies have failed some children and that a fraction of those children have died. That was not usually the fault of individual workers or supervisors, but a fault of the larger profession and the legislatures which fund them. Unlike other professional groups, child welfare workers rely exclusively on government funding. This system is largely failing its employees; it has not adequately prepared them to understand the conditions under which children die, and without this information, more children will meet the same fate.

A child’s death usually inspires reform in the child welfare system — new intake procedures, new risk assessment approaches, more workers to lower caseloads — all of which are probably important. But, never have I read that a child’s death has resulted in workers receiving evidence-based information about risk factors for fatalities. I hope that the current crisis in Massachusetts takes a new direction at the legislative and agency level and that all workers will learn what the evidence says about high risk situations that place children at risk for death.

Source: WBUR Boston

Shumlin calls for sweeping probe of DCF

Peighton Geraw home
The apartment at 264 Mallets Bay Ave. in Winooski, where Peighton Geraw lived with his mother and her boyfriend, is seen on Tuesday.

Gov. Peter Shumlin is calling for a sweeping investigation of the state Department for Children and Families, one day after learning an agency caseworker saw bruises on the neck of a Winooski baby but took no action.

The child, Peighton Geraw, 15 months, died an hour after the April 4 visit by the caseworker to the child's home concluded.

"This is the second loss of a precious young life in recent months," Shumlin said in a statement to the Burlington Free Press, which sought the governor's response Tuesday to the revelations.

"While I immediately instructed DCF Commissioner Yacovone to investigate each case thoroughly, I have also demanded a broader examination of our systems so that we can take any steps necessary to better protect our children," Shumlin said.

Shumlin said he was "troubled" that the department's involvement with Peighton did not result in saving the toddler's life.

"This is not only a tragic loss to those who loved Peighton, but to all of us, because it highlights once again how vulnerable our children are when violence erupts and the adults in their lives fail to provide protection," Shumlin said.

"None of this will bring Peighton back," Shumlin added, referring to his call for an investigation. "But too many adults failed to take action to prevent the peril facing this baby, and it is imperative that we discover what went wrong — at every step — that led to this child's death."

Fletcher Allen Health Care personnel spotted bruises on Peighton's neck while treating him for a fever and vomiting on April 2, according to a sworn police statement on file at Vermont Superior Court in Burlington.

The hospital notified DCF the same day but discharged the baby back into the care of its mother, Nytosha LaForce, and her boyfriend, Tyler Chicoine.

Two days later, department caseworker John Salter visited Peighton at the apartment. The child was asleep, but Salter saw the bruises, the sworn affidavit stated.

Shortly after Salter left, Peighton was discovered not breathing. He was transported back to the hospital, where he was declared dead.

No one has been charged in connection with the baby's death, which has been ruled a homicide by Steven Shapiro, the state's chief medical examiner.

LaForce, 28, and Chicoine, 24, both have criminal records and were jailed on unrelated parole and furlough violations within days of Peighton's death.

DCF Commissioner David Yacavone, in an interview Monday with the Burlington Free Press, said confidentiality rules prohibit him from talking about the case. But he added that the department would conduct an internal review of how it handled the matter.

The Burlington Free Press was first to report the involvement of the Department of Children and Families in the Peighton Geraw case.

The investigation Shumlin is calling for likely would be conducted by a state Senate panel formed this winter after the February death of a Poultney toddler. The department permitted the child, Dezirae Sheldon, 2, to live with her mother after the parent was convicted of abusing the girl months earlier.

State Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, said this week he wants the panel to examine whether the department's culture causes it to lean too heavily toward family reunification in cases involving allegations of child abuse and neglect.

"A major concern a number of us have is whether DCF has gone so far in the direction of reunification of families that it's forgotten what's in the best interests of the child," Sears said in an interview.

Sears said the special committee plans to hold nine public hearings throughout the state during three days in June to allow people to speak about the department and the issue of child protection.

Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, said Tuesday he hopes the state Citizen Advisory Board for Child Protection Services also will take a look at the department's handling of Peighton's and Dezirae's cases.

"The key for me is for us to do a complete evaluation," Campbell said. He said he asked Shumlin to make him a member of the board so "no rock will be left unturned."

Source: Burlington Free Press

In the first article, Emily M Douglas PhD says:

  • ... nationwide, 30 to 50 percent of all children who die from maltreatment were previously known to child protective services

    That is because child protectors know about almost every child. Ontario has even boasted of more child abuse investigations than births.

  • ... mothers are more likely to be responsible for their children’s deaths than other caregivers.

    ... children are more likely to be killed by a family than a non-family member.

    These are both misleading products of innumeracy. The child death rate in foster care is ten times that of parental care. Since real parents care for a hundred times as many children as fosters, there are ten times more deaths in the safer real families than in the dangerous foster homes.

There is not so much as a hint anywhere in the Douglas article that a child could ever suffer harm in foster care.

In the second article, Vermont governor Peter Shumlin wants to investigate how two children died after child protectors failed to take them into custody. Dezirae Sheldon died in February and in April it was Peighton Geraw. Reading the article shows that the reporter believes that foster care is the sure way to save endangered children. Again, there is no hint that a child could suffer harm from foster care. In other news Vermont social services are demanding the power to remove a child from a home immediately without legal process. The history of foster care panics suggests they will get that power and more.

For the analysis showing the dangers, refer to Deaths in Foster Care. An earlier story from Florida analyzes how sending more kids to foster care affects the death rate.