At our last sub-committee hearing on child abuse and neglect, one of the topics of discussion was training of Children’s Division workers.
We talked about the very high rate of turnover (38%) and whether or not this could be affecting the failure rate the department has in some categories. No one in the department likes to talk about rates of failure, but it is a fact of life. Nearly every week a child is murdered in Kansas City alone. I’m not talking about premeditated murder, I’m talking about children who are killed by fits of rage or in many cases by willful neglect.
Far too many times there are documented reports that are either overlooked or intentionally set aside as “unsubstantiated” or the work load is so heavy due to the high turnover that there just wasn’t enough time.
What’s going on here? I had the department bring figures on entry level wages and they are certainly in line with figures for entry level in related fields. After a lot of interviews, I think I am beginning to partially understand the situation.
Now, I’m not saying that these answers fit all the areas of the state, but the ones we have focused on are sure beginning to make sense. When these laws were set up several years ago, there were set rules for just about everything. Training was a very integral part of the new program. People with expertise in these areas were brought in from all over to properly train our department heads on how to administer their respective divisions.
Our program was touted as one of the best in the country.
So, what happened? The best theory I have heard to date, is that as time passes, the most well equipped trainers either retire or move on to other fields. A little bit of the edge is lost every year and most people don’t even notice. The administrative personnel are not really watching the day to day work of the supervisors and in many cases can’t really tell you what the supervisors are supposed to be doing.
The supervisors don’t really have the time or take the effort to work closely with the field personnel and consequently, the front line jobs are manned by the most inexperienced and least trained people in the department. Some of them act bewildered by the number of cases and the variety of situations they are thrown into. Some of them overreact to a situation and, where a more experienced person might ask for the removal of a child or conversely, may reason that the level of discipline was warranted, the inexperience and lack of proper training can lead to tragic circumstances.
Page 2 of 2 - I have heard of cases where a child was hot lined numerous times and was never removed ultimately resulting in the child’s death. I have also seen cases where several children were dragged crying from their home based on a hot line call from an estranged spouse that was later ruled unsubstantiated.
One of the Division Counsels stressed that in his mind, all the players, whether it be judges, juvenile officers, administrators, supervision, case workers and law enforcement, should be trained together. At least they should all be trained with the same manuals and learn the same methods when it comes to protecting our children. That was the single purpose that HB1453 had several years ago. A representative from St. Louis asked the judge that was present if he thought standardizing rules regarding removal of children had any merit. The judge replied that in his 20 years in child welfare work, he has concluded that you have to let judges have discretion. There is a segment of society that would totally outlaw any corporal punishment and another segment that believes that to spare the rod spoils the child.
Ultimately, training and better communication would go a long way toward solving some of the problems, but as you can tell from this short report, there is MUCH work to be done.
Food for thought this week: If children are forcibly removed from parents who discipline them with spanking while children of addicts are left in filth and drug infested “homes”.... you might live in a country founded by geniuses but run by idiots.
More next week, until then, I am and remain, in your service.
Bill Lant represents the people of Southwest Missouri in the Mo. House of Representatives. Contact him locally at 437-8223 or at his Jefferson City office at (573) 751-9801 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.