I believe this recommendation from the Office of Inspector General report is huge but under-appreciated by policy makers.
6. DCBS Permanency and Protection staff should receive consistent and repetitive training with regard to the elements required to substantiate abuse, neglect, or dependency. These elements should be standardized across the state and easily identifiable. For example, DCBS policy should mirror KRS (i.e. must have “physical injury” or “serious physical injury” to substantiate physical abuse) and define what elements are necessary to substantiate the abuse. Workers appear confused about what actually exemplifies abuse. For example, some social service workers have told parents it is “illegal” to spank their children.
During my tenure, two sources primarily defined terms such as abuse and neglect. One tended to be popular trends in society. This can be a legitimate way to define terms but only if we are talking about long-term and well established trends. For example, a long term trend has been to treat children as having autonomous rights as opposed to being chattel that are owned. Rejecting the use of a paddle in schools for discipline is shaping up to be a long-term trend. Use of spanking as a form of discipline in the home has not become a long-term trend.
The other source of definition for abuse and neglect was individual social worker’s biases. These should never be the basis for defining abuse or neglect because that would mean that someone’s entirely subjective belief could result in the removal of your neighbor’s child, of my child, or even your child. What constituted a dirty home was very different between each worker. What constituted physical abuse differed significantly also. In my county, anytime physical contact resulted in a visible mark, then that was physical abuse. This tended to include even red marks that would clear up after a few hours from a swat on the buttocks. In other counties, bruising was required.
I know this is a generalization and many may say it an unfair one, but from my experience a significant number of person drawn to the helping profession of social work had turned their own abuse and neglect into motivation to make a difference. This is fine and admirable. However, it can also be a barrier. It is a barrier when one consciously or subconsciously defines the terms they use in their work by their own personal experiences. It is a natural and human thing to do so I do not mean to insult anyone. Rather, I point it out to stress how important it is to develop uniform criteria that defines abuse and neglect in Kentucky.
For those wanting to see the full report:
Report by the Office of Inspector General