DSS to ask for more Child Protection Services investigators

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 27, 2012

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — The Rowan County Department of Social Services will be asking county officials to fund two more investigators for Child Protective Services.
DSS Chairman Sandra Wilkes told the annual meeting of the Rowan County Child Abuse Prevention Task Force that her 14 CPS investigators have high caseloads that could be diminished significantly with the new hires.
Arnold Chamberlain, chairman of the task force and a former county commissioner, told Wilkes, “I think DSS this year will be pleasantly surprised,” and see funding for the positions.
Elizabeth Smith, a member of the Child Abuse Prevention Task Force since its founding in 1997, reminded others that overwhelming caseloads were a problem when Rowan County had four children known to the DSS die from abuse in that single year.
Wilkes and Barbara Sharpe, DSS Children’s Services program administrator, said investigators are supposed to have caseloads of 10, but their numbers are in the 20s and 30s.
Some of those numbers are high, Wilkes noted, because the final paperwork and reports have not been completed to close cases that otherwise have been handled. Instead, investigators are busy screening new referrals.
Two new investigators would help reduce the caseloads and provide better backup to the initial screening process handled now by only two intake workers, Wilkes said.
As a Band-Aid approach to making sure investigations are timely, Wilkes noted, the office has had to rely on overtime hours and Saturday workdays.
Sharpe shared the 2010-2011 fiscal year report for Child Protective Services’ investigations
It showed that CPS received 2,827 reports of abuse, of which 1,951 were investigated after an initial screening process.
Of the ones investigated, 149 cases were substantiated and 88 were considered “cases in need of service,” requiring multiple response.
Sharpe stressed that in the many cases that are screened out, procedures are in place to refer or direct families to other resources, as they apply. A family’s having no electricity or water, for example, most likely would be a matter for another agency, though it might seem a form of neglect.
The sources of reports to DSS about the physical and emotional abuse of children, sexual abuse, abuse and neglect and dependency are varied. Of the 1,951 reports investigated in 2010-11, the vast majority — 1,697 — fell into a “neglect” category.
Reports to DSS came from schools, 494; law enforcement, 441; anonymous callers, 348; relatives other than parents, 326; parents, 322; mental health agencies, 140; hospitals, 136; the DSS itself, 125; medical offices, 84; and other sources, 414.
One of the front-burner items in the child-protection arena this year is achieving national accreditation for the Terrie Hess House Child Advocacy Center, a service of Prevent Child Abuse Rowan, headed by Karen Barbee.
The center sees all physically and sexually abused children in Rowan County and attempts to reduce the trauma they often face by limiting the interviews they must go through related to the abuse.
The presence of a Child Advocacy Center helps reduce the need for so many different parties, such as law enforcement, DSS, victim’s advocates, doctors and attorneys to question a child abuse victim repeatedly.
Barbee said the Child Advocacy Center had 105 cases in 2011, numbers that compare closely to those from DSS. National accreditation of the Terrie Hess House would lead to more funding for the center.
Dr. Kathleen Russo, a pediatrician and the medical doctor who provides on-site medical exams for the children, said that the general public is not aware of the importance of the Child Advocacy Center to Rowan County.
Task Force members agreed that all the key partners in the child protection network — especially law enforcement, DSS, the courts and the District Attorney’s office — know the center’s value and the priority it puts on children.
Chief District Court Judge Charlie Brown said a less obvious benefit to the center is its help in reducing litigation associated with abuse, thereby reducing trauma to children who might otherwise be subjected to trials. The level of expertise available to the center — such as Dr. Russo’s medical examinations and highly trained forensic interviewers — help considerably, according to Brown.
In other matters from the task force’s meeting:
• Brown pushed for better communication between the DA’s office and DSS so that misdemeanor child abuse prosecutions aren’t lost in the shuffle of a continually crammed District Court docket. Chamberlain said he would try to get a dialogue started with Wilkes, DSS Child Welfare Attorney Cynthia Dry and the DA’s office about Brown’s concerns.
• Task force member Mary Elizabeth Smith, a Salisbury attorney, reiterated her concerns about the use of Tasers — weapons that stun people with conducted electrical pulses. She headed a subcommittee in 2010 that reviewed the use of stun guns, particularly on students in Rowan-Salisbury Schools.
“I think it’s an important subject,” Smith said. “… It affects the children in this county.”
Smith’s subcommittee came up with several recommendations for having policies and notification procedures in place in connection to the use of Tasers against children.
“Children do die from Taser abuse,” Smith said. “… It is serious.”
Chamberlain apologized for not getting the subcommittee’s recommendations to the full task force in a timely fashion and recommended that the task force should meet sooner than next year to discuss this issue and others.Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.