Improving Child Protection in Kentucky – Part 4

Here is the 4th recommendation from the Office of the Inspector General on improving services from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

    In situations where parents are potentially threatening to social service workers, or deny entry to the social service worker, law enforcement should accompany the worker to assure the worker’s safety. Since law enforcement may assume protective custody of a child, without prior approval of the court, workers should be required to contact law enforcement and request verification of the safety of any children in a home, whenever a parent denies access to a social services worker, prior to the worker contacting the court for an ECO. Based on the fact that, once an ECO is issued, even if the worker, upon entry to the residence, determines conditions in the home are safe, they have no recourse but to remove the children. Contacting law enforcement first would prevent the unnecessary removal of children from a home simply because the parent denied the social service worker’s request for access. Further, it will eliminate the perception, whether accurate or not, that children removed in such cases are being removed by social service workers for the purpose of punishing the parent for originally denying access.

This was pretty much standard procedure in my county and it worked well. However, the Cabinet instituted a two track system for referrals during my tenure. Some low risk referrals were taken as family assessments that, on paper, were supposed to be voluntary for the families. This was contrasted with the dependency, neglect and abuse investigations which families had to participate in or at least face non-removal petitions to court order cooperation.

This second tier of Cabinet involvement seemed like a great way to engage in preventive services. Unfortunately, some beaurocrat decided that if a family said they did not want to participate, then that bumped the risk level up so it became a full blown investigation. So much for engaging families.

Even then I was mindful of the careful balance that needed to be maintained between interfering with a family to protect children and respecting the rights guaranteed us through the Constitution. Police officers are specifically trained to be mindful of where that balance point is; the lines that should not be crossed (and yes, sometimes that training is disregarded). Hopefully, this awareness of balancing rights and protection can be, or has been, integrated into social service training.

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