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Diane W. Mufson: Public needs to support CPS workers

Sep. 04, 2013 @ 05:13 PM

Many reports in this newspaper and others have highlighted the significant problems of handling West Virginia's child abuse and neglect cases. An audit of Child Protective Services (CPS), part of the WV Department of Health and Human Resources, found that abuse and neglect investigations were not done rapidly enough and that recommendations made in the past six years were not implemented.

These issues should be corrected quickly, but there is another facet to these CPS problems. The public and DHHR administrators must understand what the job of Child Protective Service worker entails. Unless this is realistically addressed, CPS will always have serious deficits.

There are many really tough jobs in this world. Some like coal mining often pay well. Others, like police and fire personnel, are not paid handsomely, but receive respect and recognition from the law-abiding public. Child protective services workers have difficult jobs that bring them neither public appreciation nor high levels of remuneration.

Adults do not appreciate "outsiders" coming into their home to investigate reports that they are neglecting or abusing their children. A half-century ago when I was completing my graduate degree, I spent a summer as a CPS worker in a rural part of Long Island. I was young and optimistic, but quickly learned that the people I was sent to "help" didn't want me in their lives or to have anything to do with CPS.

My understanding and appreciation of CPS workers grew during my three decades of psychology practice here in Huntington. CPS workers often have training as social workers but they find that CPS work is far from theoretical social work.

The Associated Press, in this newspaper, reported an example of a CPS home visit. CPS workers were sent to a home in McDowell County and found children ages one and two, "Handling and eating human excrement." The CPS workers felt threatened by the parents, so a police officer was called to the home and he "Determined that controlled substances likely played a role and that the parents were intoxicated to the extreme that they didn't care."

No CPS worker or administrator can solve this family's problem. Drug-addicted adults do not concern themselves about their offspring during prenatal development and once the babies are born they are only an inconvenience. The best CPS workers in the state cannot help if the parents are more interested in their next fix than fixing the baby's food.

CPS workers often find themselves frustrated and realistically scared. Recall the report of the rape and murder of social worker Brenda Lee Yeager, who in 2008 had gone to check on a young child right here in our area.

And remember the little girl, Aliayah, 3, who disappeared from rural West Virginia two years ago. She's never been found. Her mother was incarcerated for eight months for welfare fraud and then lived at a halfway house, where she met a man from whom she was warned to stay away. According to news reports, he will be the father of her eighth child. Guess the likelihood that in the future CPS workers will be directed to visit that mother's home to check on that child's welfare.

There are administrative actions that CPS should quickly take to improve data collection and decision-making. But unless those individuals who provide direct CPS activities are given reasonable caseloads, practical and good supervision, arrangements for their own safety and better pay, employee turnover and CPS staff burnout will be high and CPS problems will continue.

Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. She is a former citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.

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