Friday, March 25, 2011

Improving the Foster Care System - Part XIX

Hat tip to Micky for sending me this article from MSNBC:

Welfare Workers Charged in Girl's Death

Two child welfare workers have been charged in connection with the death of a 4-year-old girl they were responsible for monitoring, and authorities said she "might be alive today" if they had done their jobs.

Marchella Brett-Pierce weighed just 18 pounds when she died Sept. 2. Authorities said she was tied to her bed and starved, beaten and drugged.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes said Damon Adams, the caseworker who had been assigned to her case before her death, and Chereece Bell, his former supervisor, are charged with criminally negligent homicide, endangering the welfare of a child and official misconduct.

This case is another horrific example of the child welfare system failing to do its job. It's cases like these that make me think we should abolish the system entirely. If children are going to die when they are supposed to be supervised by authorities, then clearly kids aren't necessarily any better off than if they'd been left alone.

I find myself wondering this, since the system manages to do so much damage to birth, foster and adoptive families already. If the system that's supposed to protect kids fails at it so miserably, and manages to destroy the lives of innocent people whose only crime was to be anonymously accused of wrongdoing, perhaps it simply shouldn't exist at all.

Now I know that this is an extreme case. Unfortunately, it happens too frequently to be acceptable, even in our local area. There was a case not too long ago where a child that was under the watchful eye of social workers ended up being murdered by a relative caregiver.

I realize that there were probably a lot of reasons, in this particular case, why the workers involved didn't do their jobs. Maybe their caseloads were too high, and there weren't enough hours in the day to cover all families they were supposed to supervise. Maybe the economic crisis and state budgetary problems left the entire department with too many cases and not enough staff.

Or maybe, just like postal worker Newman in the television show Seinfeld who hid mail in the basement instead of delivering it, they were just lazy.

Clearly the two workers involved were aware that they had screwed up. They attempted to falsify visit records after the child died. Instead of admitting, right off the bat, that they'd missed checking in on the child, they tried to cover their tracks and pretend to have made visits that were never made.

Now as much as I dislike social most workers, and I despise these two in particular for not doing their jobs, I'm not sure that I agree they should be prosecuted for criminally negligent homicide. It's true they did not do their jobs, but I'm not sure that justice is served by holding them accountable for a death that was caused by the child's grandmother.

So how do we prevent this from happening?

Again, the issue comes down to one of money. If the child welfare system was properly funded:

  • We wouldn't have jobs that should be performed by LCSWs being done by untrained hacks.
  • We wouldn't have social workers making decisions based on expediency, so a kid can be jettisoned from their caseload.
  • We wouldn't have such high turnover because good workers would stay because they were being adequately compensated.
  • Bad workers wouldn't stay, because management would have the ability to pay competitive wages and benefits to attract the really good people.
  • Most importantly, kids in care would get the necessary services and treatments they need, and the foster families who care for them would be motivated to do a good job because they'd be properly trained and compensated.
Perhaps this sounds really extreme, but we as a society wouldn't want to pay for city garbage service that charges to pick up the trash, but then doesn't actually empty the dumpsters. As soon as the garbage started piling up in our streets, people would complain.

So why is it, when kids start dying because social workers don't do their jobs, nobody says a word?


  1. Actually there is plenty of money floating around in Child Welfare, it's just poorly managed and wasted.

    These kinds of cases have a negative reverse effect once the spin doctors get a hold of it. It's called child abuse hysteria and foster care panic. The end result is almost always the state pumping money into the system.

    The media starts harping on a major screw up by a child welfare agency.

    The agencies cry poverty, "not enough workers, not enough funding, not enough bla bla bla."

    The sheeple who are sold on the horrific presentation of the case as it is portrayed on TV as if it is the norm, cry out for the agencies to do more to protect children.

    The states increase funding and the next thing you know they're hiring new caseworkers right out of school, intensifying foster parent recruitment campaigns and child removal rates increase by 10% over the next year by jumpy workers who are afraid of any more public backlash and simply take the child and run because it's better to be safe then sorry.

    There is a lot going on in New York right now anyway. A Child Advocacy group known as Childrens Rights has filed a federal class action against the state for failing kids. They backed off as the new governor took office promising to address the issue and the state started actively recruiting 60 new caseworkers as one of his first orders of business.

    Here's a quote from a New York Times article on this case. The issue is really about holding them accountable for their failures. They don't like it.

    Never before, however, had any caseworker been accused of contributing to a death. But that is what happened this week, when the Brooklyn district attorney announced the indictment of a former caseworker and a supervisor on charges of criminally negligent homicide in the death of a 4-year-old girl.

    On Thursday, agency workers, officials and even some child welfare advocates expressed fears that the charges would make a tough job — attracting smart, qualified people — even tougher, and might even make things worse for vulnerable families too.

    “I’m very unhappy about it; I feel it’s unfair,” said Susan Greene, a newly hired caseworker who works in Brooklyn. “We do a lot of good work. It is a lot of work.” Potential workers, she said worriedly, “might not want to work for this agency.”


    These are two cases that have been in the news recently in regards to child abuse, foster care and neglect.


    These are two cases that have been in the news recently in regards to child abuse, foster care and neglect.

  4. I live in NY and have been follow this case. This child starved to death. She died from neglect, with her biological mother and grandmother watching. That could have been my GB.


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