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Posts tagged with Citizen Journalism Academy

Governor’s Child Abuse Task Force-Final Part

Governor's Child Abuse Task Force-Final RecommendationsRecommendations:3. The initial review and response to all intakes must include clear policies and procedures for social workers to follow.4. The improvement of the investigative and interview stage of child abuse and neglect cases is needed by requiring specific investigative and interview skills for all Child Protective Services (CPS) social workers and by developing and enhancing accredited Children's Advocacy Centers (CAC) and Multidisciplinary Teams (MDT).5. Regular and on-going training must be mandated for all SRS staff who work in child protective services.These are the final recommendations of the Governor's Task Force. I don't think that there is any debate on recommendations 3 and 5. Training and revised policies and procedures almost always follow unfortunate results and revisiting what is done in these areas is always a good idea.Recommendation 4 deserves some comment and clarification. Special expertise is needed to determine what is being said. I think that this is a 3 part recommendation.1)Police or social workers? One of the ongoing debates in child protective services is whether social workers are the best people to be investigating child abuse or neglect. A bad result of an investigation frequently is followed with a recommendation to have police take over CPS. Police do have special expertise in investigating if a crime has been committed. However, not all child abuse or neglect situations are crimes. For example, judging when neglect requires state intervention is not an investigation of a crime. In addition, a previous post mentioned the large percentage of reports that are investigated where the report is for the non-abuse neglect situation of a child being without proper control. I think that few police would welcome the added responsibility of responding to these concerns. There is evidence that a joint investigation of child abuse situations by police and social workers is effective. Cross, Finkelhor & Ormrod (2005) found, among other things, that police involvement may promote CPS effectiveness and should be coordinated in every community. A close working relationship between CPS and the police is an essential ingredient in the community's response to child abuse and neglect. The police and social workers who testified at the Task Force meetings agreed with this assessment.There is another aspect to the collaboration between police and CPS staff. It is not uncommon for social workers to be asked to investigate a very dangerous situation. CPS staff are sometimes asked to neighborhoods or housing units that few of us would venture near. These staff need and deserve all of the protections available.2)Multidisciplinary Teams (MDTs). Another part of this recommendation is developing and enhancing multidisciplinary teams. MDTs bring the professionals together that are needed to determine what needs to be done in a particular situation. Child abuse and neglect situations are frequently very complex. For example, a CPS worker might be confronted with a mother neglecting her children and diagnosed as developmental delayed and mentally ill. She may also be alcohol or drug dependent. Expecting a CPS worker or a police officer to have expertise in all of these areas is unrealistic. Professionals for substance abuse, developmental disabilities, and mental health are also needed. Jones, Cross, Walsh & Simone (2005) conclude that MDTs can improve investigation and case outcomes. This was widely agreed to by those people who testified at the Task Force meetings who had experience with MDTs. Every community should have MDTs as part of their child abuse and neglect response.3)Children's Advocacy Centers (CAC). Developing and enhancing CACs is the third part of this Task Force recommendation. According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC), Child Advocacy Centers are non-profit agencies designed to coordinate multidisciplinary investigations of child abuse in a child-friendly environment. CACs were begun in response to the complexity of investigations of child sexual abuse. Victims of sexual abuse can easily experience additional trauma by repeated interviews of their experiences. Police, county attorneys, social workers all need the information but they don't all need to interview the victim. In addition, if the interview is not done well, the trauma can be exasperated.Children's Advocacy Centers can be effective in coordinating investigations, conducting forensic interviews and referring children for mental health services. One of the interesting aspects of this recommendation is that it was part of Governor Sebelius' original charge to the Task Force. In the press release announcing the appointment of the Task Force (March 8, 2007), she proposed the creation of child advocacy centers and devoted $1 million in her budget to begin establishing them around the state. Several CACs already existed so this is really an expansion.I do think that it is curious that Governor Sebelius proposed this solution before the Task Force had an opportunity to access the problem. So of course the Task Force complied. Please understand I have nothing against children's advocacy centers. I just think that the solution should have come from the committee. In addition, the problem in the Wichita case was not sexual abuse for which CACs were designed and have demonstrated expertise. Given the range of recommendations in the Task Force Report and the state legislature's propensity to avoid spending money it is going to be difficult to fund all of the Task Force recommendations. Calling for funding of an expensive solution to a different problem than what was the situation in Wichita may not be the best solution.Stay tuned to see what happens in the next legislative session.

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Governor’s Child Abuse Task Force-Part 3

Recommendation #2. One toll free number should be used to report child abuse and neglect and skilled and trained staff should take the call.Now this is a recommendation with which I totally agree. Currently SRS maintains 7 call centers to receive reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. There are six Regional Protection Report Centers and the Kansas Protection Report Center (PRC). The PRC operates 24 hours a day seven days a week while the regional centers do not. This probably grew out of history where child welfare was originally part of county welfare offices. Over the years for a variety of reasons including reorganizations of SRS these responsibilities morphed and merged into our current arrangement. It is time to consolidate once more. The major argument against a single statewide hot-line is that local people have professional relationships and know community situations that make a local response more efficient and effective. In some communities social workers know the police officers and the county attorney very well and can call on them for nearly instant help in protecting a child. For example, a school social worker might suspect that a child is a victim of abuse, call a social worker in the local SRS office who might call a police officer and they would jointly investigate the situation within a few minutes or hours.A part of this argument is that a single statewide child abuse reporting hot-line is distant from the community, wouldn't know the key actors and may delay an effective response. For example, the school social worker in the previous example might think twice about calling an anonymous statewide phone number even though she/he is a mandated reporter.On the surface this argument has merit. Investigations are local. It is local police that aid the investigation. It is the county attorney that normally files the petition to find the child a "child in need of care". However, during the Governor's Protective Services Task Force meetings it was clear that the 7 call centers did not all operate in the same manner. This is a problem. If the person answering the phone whether it is local or regional, doesn't get the right information and make the right decision, a child's life may be endangered. This may be what occurred in the case of the two girls in Wichita. It is, in part, a matter of quality control. When the safety of a child is at stake it is important to get all the necessary information, check all relevant files such as the child abuse registry and Kansas Bureau of Investigation offender registry and make a correct decision. It is difficult to assure that this occurs for all calls in 7 call centers.Consistency is also important because a child abuse or neglect investigation brings the power of the state into private family matters. I don't think that we want a situation where an investigation of suspected child abuse would occur in one part of Kansas while that same situation would not start an investigation in another. With the technology available in 2007 there is no reason why a single statewide child abuse and neglect hot-line could not operate as efficiently as a local system. When a decision is made to investigate a case, staff can instantaneous call, email, text message or use whatever communication channels are available to notify local SRS social workers and police so that the investigation can begin. Of course if it is midnight the SRS social worker would not be on duty and the response would have to wait. But that is another problem.

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Robert Hawkins of Omaha

Robert Hawkins killed himself and eight other people in an Omaha mall. Another fact is that he spent time in treatment centers, group homes and foster care. For some people the headline says it all and that is all that they need to know about Robert. Foster care equals trouble. What does this say about Robert or foster care?Robert was certainly troubled and trouble for the community. From news reports we do not know all the details of his life. We do know that he could relate to some people in a non-dangerous way. Debra Maruca-Kovac took Robert into her home when he was homeless. At some point he had a girl friend. There was more to Robert than foster care. Placing a child in foster care is used by the community for protecting children from abuse or neglect. It is also used when we don't know how to help a parent respond to troublesome behavior.SRS reports that "83.8% of assigned reports involve the non-abuse neglect presenting situations without proper control." http://www.srskansas.org/CFS/datareports08.htmlThis means that when people call to report that a child is suspected of being a victim of child abuse or neglect they are more often reporting a child exhibiting behavior that is difficult to manage. Some of these children are placed into foster care. The assumption seems to be that parents are at fault and providing better parenting will change the child's behavior. I am certain that this is sometime true.It didn't work for Robert and it doesn't work for many others. Our ideas that parenting is responsible for a child's behavior is not always accurate. Many children have mental disorders that we don't recognize soon enough and for which our response is inadequate. That seems to be Robert's situation.We ask our child abuse and neglect agencies to also be our child mental health response and it doesn't always work. In Kansas we require our foster care agencies to be fiscally liable for some results for foster children. Our mental health centers are under no similar obligation. This is true in most states. "Shooter was in group homes, foster care" says little about Robert. It may say a lot about foster care and even more about children's mental health services that aren't even mentioned.

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Governor’s Child Abuse Task Force-Pt. 2

Governor's Child Abuse Task Force-Pt. 2I will briefly comment on each of the recommendations of the Task Force. This can become very long and technical. I will try to avoid that. This is why I will only undertake one recommendation at a time. This is not an easy task and I welcome comments that help clarify the issues or question my observations. See the first post for background. Recommendation 1. An ombudsman position and an independent board, separate from SRS, should be created. Observations:1). Policy formation by committee. This recommendation is a good example. Beware of sentences that contain 'and'. They frequently contain too much. In this case it is my opinion that both an ombudsman and a board are too much. 2.) An ombudsman is not a good idea. On the surface it sounds good to have an independent person who can investigate complaints. In reality this person or office would be overwhelmed by the number of complaints and the complexity of most situations. In the 2007 state fiscal year SRS received 53,048 reports of concern regarding children. Nearly every one of these is contested by someone. One full-time person (the recommendation) could not possibly respond to the demand. In the Wichita case, Governor Sebelius had her chief legal counsel investigate. I don't know how much time it took him but I bet he wasn't finished in an hour or two. If only 10% of the 53,000 cases requested an investigation, the ombudsman would have no more than 4 hours available per case (2,000 hours divided by 5,000.). If you question the 10%, just read the comments about SRS that accompany any published child abuse case. Child welfare is contentious. That is one of the reasons that we have judges involved in making child abuse and neglect decisions. 3.) An independent review board could be a good idea but not necessarily. The Task Force report includes several tasks for which this review board would be responsible. The task list is a good one. These tasks also require considerable child welfare expertise. One way to implement this recommendation would be to create an independent research center to do the work. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy is an excellent example. It was created in 1982 by the state legislature and is governed by a board that represents the legislature, governor and public universities. It does practical, non-partisan research at legislative direction. As a consumer of some of its research, I can say that they do excellent work. Check them out at http://www.wsipp.wa.gov. Will the Kansas legislature be willing to fund such a center? I doubt it. It is expensive. So a political compromise would likely be a review board without the expertise or funding to do the work. Not a pretty picture.4.) My recommendation. I recommended to the board that the state legislature require SRS to report annually on the effectiveness of its CPS operations. I think that this squarely places the responsibility for oversight where it belongs in the legislature and places the work where it should be - SRS. SRS can do the job and currently collects much of the data. CPS can be thought of as a series of decisions. For example, the decision to accept a phone call as a report; the decision to have a report investigated; the decision that a report really is child abuse or neglect; etc. It is now widely accepted that you can judge the effectiveness of a CPS system through data on each decision point. While this recommendation is not as strong as the creation of a Washington Institute for Public Policy capability in Kansas, it is better than an understaffed independent review board. Disclaimer: I do not make these critical comments because I am disappointed that the Task Force did not take my recommendations verbatim. I have been involved in public policy efforts too long for that type of attitude. I am quite pleased that they took my input seriously and included many of my ideas.

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Governor’s Child Abuse Task Force Report

Governor's Child Abuse Task ForceThe report is in. I will get to that later. Governor Sebelius created the Child Protective Services Task Force in July in response to a tragic case in Wichita. Two young girls were reported as suspected victims of abuse and the response was botched by Child Protective Services (CPS) of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. The Task Force report includes 5 recommendations. I will comment on each of the recommendations but first a disclaimer and some observations. I am a tried and true citizen participant. That means I get involved by attending meetings and talking to those who represent us at the city, county, state and national level. I had a particular interest in the Child Protective Services Task Force because I have devoted over 30 years to research and writing about public child welfare that includes CPS in Kansas and Illinois. Observations1) I really wanted to be a member of the Task Force. I lobbied hard to be a member and failed. When the membership of the Task Force was announced, and I was not included, I called Chairman Tim Emert and asked to be included in notifications of meetings. He was gracious and I attend all of the meetings. I was allowed to ask questions and make comments and at one point was asked for my recommendations. I presented my observations and recommendations and I thought that they were well received. 2) The tyranny of the anecdote. Joe Loftus, an Illinois colleague, suggests that child welfare is too frequently the victim of bad policy that follows a news report of a bad outcome (the anecdote). The challenge presented by the Wichita case is determining if the situation involving the two young girls was common or unusual. The next task is examining policy and procedures to see what can be done to improve practice. This is an extremely difficult task given one case.3) Policy formation by committee. The Task Force members included a range of child welfare expertise from those who knew very little to those with years of experience. Judge Jean Shepherd, for example, has many years hearing Child In Need of Care cases (those involving, among other things, abuse and neglect) and is widely recognized as being an excellent child welfare judge. But how do you educate 14 diverse people on the complex issues involved in CPS and create a consensus on recommendations in six meetings that not all members can regularly attend? With great difficulty.4) The Task Force worked hard. Given the constraints it is my observation that the Task Force did a good job. They listened, asked good questions, they thoughtfully deliberated.So what about the recommendations? That's next.Can't wait? Read the report at http://www.governor.ks.gov/documents/071129-FinalCPSreport.pdf

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