help4yourfamily

Create the family you want to have

The Problem with Social Services- part II

Mother holds Child

Mother holds Child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my post yesterday, I outlined some of the problems with the implementation of Social Services.  Today, I will be discussing support for CPS and social workers in general.  You can see from what you read already that in many ways workers are bound to the law of their area for decision-making purposes.  I am certain that every CPS worker you will ever speak to has a child, or several children, that they wish they could have removed because they could see the train wreck coming.  Similarly, they will also have a child they were sad to remove, and parents that surprise them with their resiliency, cruelty, etc.  Just when you think you’ve seen it all, they have seen more.  Yet, how much do we hear about CPS workers, or any social workers, for that matter getting recognition for the difficult work they do?  In many ways CPS workers are damned if they do and damned if they don’t in most situations.  The cases that get highlighted are the extremes where children were taken from the home with little apparent reason or children that were not removed from the home who died.  There are almost always people who are upset with the decisions of the workers- people who feel neglect or abuse is occurring get angry because they  want CPS workers to be more proactive, and people who feel the parents are doing the best they can, or have a right to parent however they see fit even if it borders on abuse want CPS workers to mind their own business.   I do not mean to make any excuses over children improperly removed or children who are left in the home who suffer further abuse or fatality but I do want to say that with the high caseloads expected of caseworkers, the low-level of support and the high burnout rate of workers, mistakes are bound to happen.  While I’m mentioning this, another potential area for legal changes could be mandating a particular number of children on a workers caseload just like school districts have a student; teacher ratio.

In addition to having incredibly difficult jobs and little public understanding of their role, CPS workers do this with very little financial support.  While I was not working as a CPS worker, after earning my master’s degree and going to work in a treatment facility for abused children, I got very little compensation.  By comparison, my sister, who was getting her undergraduate degree in computer science, made more at her internship than I was making at my job.  I left that job five years later, with many tears on my part because I did love my work and I was in a supportive atmosphere.  The final straw for me was after I had two children and my husband and I were in a Home Depot one day where two employees happened to be comparing paychecks while we were checking out.  One of them mentioned how much money he was making an hour and I realized I was making only a dollar an hour more than he was.  Even though my husband works hard, we do need my paycheck and I realized I needed to earn more money to justify being away from my babies.   The average income of a full-time CPS worker is about 30-35,000 which is in the high range for social workers outside of private practice.  If you compare what social workers and teachers do, we can make many of the same arguments about being expected to purchase materials in excess of what is provided and work hours outside of paid time, etc.  Yet teachers have the support of the public.  When’s the last time you saw a discount for social workers to get into a museum or social worker night at the pizza place?  I’m guessing never.

My point is not to whine, my point is to say that one thing we could really use is some marketing.  Right now the cons of getting involved in child welfare in general outweigh the pros for anyone who relies on their paycheck to put food on the table.  If I had a dollar for every time in my master’s program I was told we were not in social work for the money, I would be rich.  Bottom line, we need to support the intent of social services- to protect children and prevent child abuse, to advertise the opportunities that social services can help struggling parents with, and to better compensate and support our workers so we attract the best of the best.  As part of a larger marketing campaign, we need to educate people about the current role of social services (while taking responsibility for past mistakes), focusing on people of color, immigrants and the very poor as in the past the United States has improperly targeted these groups and there is, in my opinion understandably, a generation of people who carry the fear that their children will be taken should they seek assistance or raise a question to anyone about how to be a better parent.

While you may believe that focusing on CPS is missing the point of supporting child abuse prevention, I believe it is very pertinent to the discussion.  According to PBS’s Frontline website, only about 60% of the cases referred to CPS are actually found to need further investigation, however, even without finding a child has been abused, often the local Department of Social Services can offer families help in signing up for programs that include child care, food and medical assistance, and parenting classes.   A 2002 report for the Urban Institute says that about $20 million was spent that year on child welfare services.  Compare this to the Humane Society’s $160 million budget to protect animals.  I have nothing against animals (I’m actually a vegetarian) but seriously?  This is shameful!  People will give money all day long to protect animals, but when it comes to children, for the most part, people do not want to hear about it, talk about it or think about it.  I think too, we assume services are out there and available when really, they are not as available as we would like to think.  De-stigmatizing aid and  increasing wages to hire the best workers would dramatically change the impact of Social Services in preventing child abuse.

Tomorrow, I will highlight what I believe to be the cornerstones of a good child abuse prevention program.

April 18, 2012 - Posted by | social services | , , , , , ,

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