Regarding the article “Panel hears testimony on protecting Vermont children,” by The Associated Press, the piece reads that state police Director Tom L’Esperance said a key shortcoming in the Dezirae Sheldon child death case was the “failure to identify the actual offender who broke the child’s leg,” and that the child was abused by her stepfather, and a Department for Children and Families official was told the child was abused by the stepfather and he failed to inform the caseworker. DCF Commissioner David Yacovone stated that confidentiality and caseworker workload are his concerns.
I do not believe this is the problem at DCF. As a former caseworker for Vermont Social Services for 20 years, my experience tells me the problems lie elsewhere. While investigating child abuse reports, police and state’s attorneys are directly involved and aware of all details. Caseworker-prepared court reports go to the court and are shared with state’s attorneys, lawyers, court-appointed guardians and family members. So, confidentiality is not the problem. Failure on the part of DCF officials or others at the agency to inform a caseworker of vital information is incompetence and misconduct.
What’s needed here is a complete evaluation of DCF by the American Humane Association and recommendations for reorganization of the department. Hiring more caseworkers and supervisors for a dysfunctional child protection department will not fix the problems. Yes, more staff are probably needed, but only after the evaluation is complete. Clinical supervision and evaluations of all staff, including caseworkers, supervisors, clerical, management, is needed. Then, training of all staff is required. Internal issues at child welfare departments, like harassment and sexual harassment, occur due to a lack of training. These problems further exacerbate the problems that already exist. The entire process must occur, otherwise it’s just a Band-Aid and will fix nothing.
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