Op-Ed

Protecting the children: Don't blame overburdened workers in underfunded system

For more than two decades, I have stood helplessly by, watching the system of children's care perpetrate and perpetuate abuse of the very people who are working tirelessly to eradicate the abuse — myself included.

No one outside this system of care has the right to criticize the folks in the trenches. No one outside of the system knows what it's like to hold the safety, the life, of a child in his hands.

Outsiders don't know what it's like to have to determine whether a child can stay home safely or must be stripped from his home. Social workers are criticized for ripping families apart, and they are criticized for letting them stay together. It's a lose-lose situation always.

As in every other profession, there is a small percentage of social workers and other community mental-health professionals who don't do their jobs, and they should be dismissed.

In my experience, however, 97 percent truly care about doing a good job, about making good decisions for people and their families. They try hard to do the right thing, all while underfunded, understaffed and underpaid. Most have caseloads three to four times what best practice recommends. Does $30,000 a year cover such responsibility?

It's not humanly possible for these folks to do what is expected of them. This is the most difficult job in the world; those who do it are abused by the system and sometimes by the families they're trying to help. But they work every day to help stop abuse within families.

It's a tough job, having all this responsibility, and all would agree that monumental changes are needed. The entire system needs to be overhauled. Don't just punish a worker or two, then wait for the next tragedy to get up in arms.

If we really cared about children, the elderly and every other vulnerable person around us, we would adequately fund child-protective services and other agencies so they could do their jobs and do them to the best of their ability.

Until this happens, Kentucky will remain high in child-fatality rankings. But with proper funding and resources, fewer children in Kentucky would die. Are we willing to put our money where our mouth is?

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