|06-16-2004, 04:19 PM||#1|
That's my story and I'm stickin' to it....
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: Hammond, La.
Yet another screw-up in child protection...
Ignoring reports of abused children
Who hamstrung whom?
(Original publication: June 16, 2004)
For almost 13 years, the Westchester County Department of Social Services has been hamstrung in its efforts to investigate and protect abused children because of a court decree it agreed to but whose particulars should have been applied more narrowly.
In the interim, how many local abused children have been reported to the department, only to be ignored because of a misinformed, misapplied "hands-off'' DSS policy?
(A hands-off policy when dealing with reports of abuse? what?? )
Out of the emerging issue of whether Westchester can improve its child-protection efforts, that question alone should dispel several myths: that a grand jury had no business criticizing the department in the death of a child under its care; that an internal departmental review of the agency, even with state oversight, would have been sufficient, and that the county Board of Legislators shouldn't have bothered investigating the grand jury's recommendations; and that independent child-fatality review boards couldn't serve a useful purpose. The latter have been suggested as a way of uncovering facts in child deaths, detrimental policies and alternative practices, to be shared publicly.
The county board's Committee on Families continued this week to review the recommendations issued in a grand jury report. The grand jury had gathered evidence and interviewed witnesses after the death of a child in December, allegedly at the hands of her mother. The 2-year-old had been under the care of DSS for some time, then returned to the mother. The family was supposed to receive services through the DSS, including both scheduled and unscheduled visits from caseworkers. The report found at least a six-week window late last year in which no caseworker had contact with the child. It also cited other child cases, and identified hugely worrisome practices and gaps in the system.
At a second Families Committee hearing Monday, DSS officials acknowledged that the facts surrounding the child's death as presented in the report were accurate. They maintained that many of the report's recommendations already were, or now are, in effect. At length, legislators discussed with them how to systematically "red-flag" high-risk cases to prevent such mistakes from happening again.
Yet DSS officials have told the lawmakers that they are hamstrung implementing many of the grand jury's recommendations due to a consent decree that the county entered into in 1991. Westchester settled a lawsuit in which a Scarsdale family named Beck successfully argued that their children were improperly stripped-searched and harassed, without parental knowledge or permission, by a Westchester caseworker after an anonymous abuse complaint was made. The county later acknowledged that the caseworker targeted the wrong family and apologized.
As part of the settlement, the Beck family successfully argued that Westchester's protocols for protecting parental rights in such complaints had to be improved. Changes to the department's internal documents guiding caseworkers and supervisors were agreed to and remain in use today. The grand jury acknowledged those as "limitations'' and recommended changes to better protect high-risk children.
However, a close reading of the consent agreement and the internal protocols themselves confirm that they only apply to initial investigations of abuse complaints. The attorney for the plaintiffs in the Beck case himself confirmed to the Editorial Board yesterday that the protocols worked out in the consent order were only concerned with intake investigations, not proven abuse cases or victims the county is supposed to be monitoring, such as the 2-year-old victim and others taken up in the grand jury report.
(Of course...why bother with PROVEN abuse cases or victims?)
Yet DSS has said — indeed, the grand jury report accepts on face value — that Westchester County is hamstrung by the parental consent issues and other limitations contained in the consent decree.
Nelson M. Farber, attorney for the plaintiffs, who signed off on the 1991 court order, scoffed at the suggestion: "If there is a danger to a child, the Beck protocols absolutely do not handcuff the county from acting. At most, the protocols require the county to serve a court order. Once a Family Court judge is involved, the Family Court judge is in control.''
Under the Beck guidelines, a caseworker could, for example, roll up the sleeves of a young child to assess possible abuse, Farber agreed. DSS officials told the legislators that the Beck agreement hindered such an action.
"The purpose of Beck,'' Farber said, "was to prevent an initial stampede by the agency prior to having all the facts.'' Asked if the consent agreement applies to ongoing DSS monitoring, Farber said, "No way! If there is mandated supervision by the court, that's ludicrous.''
(I don't see the problem with a "stampede," as they call it. If the report is found to be without merit, then there's no harm done; but if the report DOES have merit, a "stampede" could make the difference between life and death)
He added: "The county's claim that they were handcuffed by the Beck guidelines in this instance couldn't be more cowardly and cynical. Those guidelines do not override court orders.''
Neither, the consent decree says clearly, do they pertain if a court deems they are inconsistent with state and federal law. In fact, the county could have at any time applied to the court to revise the program guide that stemmed out of the Beck case some 13 years ago, according to the consent decree.
Clearly, the Committee on Families work on this issue is not finished. Neither is the county administration's.
Review of the Beck guidelines, and the implications their implementation have had on protecting children in Westchester, must be investigated.
My free will...I never leave home without it.
Someday I want to be rich. Some people get so rich they lose all respect for humanity. That's how rich I want to be.
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[The Nat'l Health] plan did fine until people actually read it, at which point it ran into big trouble, especially with the Republicans, who strongly appose government intrusion into private citizens' lives unless they thought of it first. So after many months of debate and modification, Congress has whittled the National Health Care Plan down to a one-paragraph nonbinding resolution urging everybody to floss. This resolution would not take effect until the year 2006. Bob Dole is still against it.
- Dave Barry