Over the past few years, the Erie County Department of Social Services has failed to protect some of our most vulnerable children. Three tragedies have taken place that should have been prevented; and three young children have been lost due to failures that must be corrected immediately.
There is no single answer that exists to solve these complex challenges in child protective care in Erie County. In part we need to wait until the current state investigation concludes before we realize exactly what has gone wrong. However we also need to take action now.
A few weeks ago, County Executive Poloncarz submitted a plan to restructure the Department of Social Services. This plan was submitted before the recent death of five year old Eain Brooks. The County Executive’s plan would add seven positions to Child Protective Services (CPS), six Social Caseworkers and one Coordinator. Additionally, his plan added three managerial positions not under CPS specifically, but under the Department of Social Services as a whole. My Legislature colleagues and I have reviewed the Poloncarz proposal, and I had several concerns.
On Tuesday September 24th Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert- Maurer testified before the Legislature on the County Executive’s proposal. She made the case that one problem identified is our current caseworkers in child protective services are overburdened with workload. Erie County has one of the highest numbers of child support caseloads in New York State. Poverty, crime, economic instability and just a general disregard for right and wrong all help create a climate for parental negligence and abuse. These problems are bigger than just a restructuring of a department or easing the case load of our county employees. But helping our CPS investigators is a good first step.
That is why on Thursday September 26th, I supported an alternative plan which would give CPS ten additional caseworkers. Unfortunately our plan was not approved. Ultimately, I joined my colleagues and voted to add seven additional boots on the ground CPS workers. Yet I voted against adding the three unnecessary manger positions, which were approved by a 6-5 vote.
What is most clear to me is that we have problems on the ground level of these investigations. The ten additional employees I supported to hire in CPS would all be investigators, making a difference in protecting our children.
The case for more Social Services managers was not made. If anything, it is clear that the department is already too top heavy and I don’t believe more levels of management would do anything to stop these catastrophes from happening in our community.
The additional staff in CPS is a starting point, but to protect our children, we must do more. In the coming months I plan to continue our investigation of this department because we cannot rest until our children receive the maximum protection we can offer.