Social Worker Justice – going to jail for CPS
Last spring, the Brooklyn district attorney took the unprecedented step of charging NY child welfare supervisor Chereece Bell with criminally negligent homicide. This is just one of a few cases nationwide where child welfare workers have been charged with a criminal act for doing–or not doing–their job.
In June 2010, Philadelphia caseworkers Julius Juma Murray, Miriam Coulibaly and others pleaded guilty or were found guilty of fabricating reports and destroying documents to hide the fact that caseworkers skipped hundreds of home visits to dozens of clients, including 14-year-old Danieal Kelly who starved to death in 2006.
New York Magazine recently wrote a thoughtfully nuanced profile of Chereece Bell and the difficult choices she faced while doing her job in one of New York City’s toughest neighborhoods.
The decision to arrest two ACS workers all but guarantees headlines for the D.A.’s office. As far as anyone knows, this marks the first time in New York City history that child-welfare workers have been indicted in connection with the death of a child on their caseload. Bell and Adams appear all over the media: local TV news, the tabloids, the front page of the New York Times. In all the photos, they look sullen and sleep-deprived—every bit the stereotypical tabloid criminals.
By the afternoon of March 23, Chereece Bell—mom of two, graduate of Brooklyn College, onetime city supervisor—has tumbled to the bottom of the city’s social ladder, joining that sorry parade of accused criminals being led out of the courthouse and onto buses bound for Rikers Island. Never mind that she doesn’t know exactly why she is being taken to jail. Nor does she understand how she could be charged with the murder of a girl she never met. But those questions will have to wait. First, she has a more urgent problem: figuring out how to make her $25,000 bail, so she can get back home to her children.
In many ways, the job of caseworker had become a writing job. Caseworkers are supposed to document everything they do: every phone call, every visit to a family, every conversation with a doctor or teacher or neighbor. There are so many cases coming in—and there’s so much writing to do for each one—that it seemed almost everyone was behind on their paperwork, sometimes weeks behind. To try to stay on top of their cases, workers ate lunch at their desks, stayed at the office until 7 or 8 p.m., and logged in from home.
One of the toughest parts of Bell’s job was figuring out which cases were so serious that the kids needed to be taken from their parents. If possible, it’s always best to keep a family intact, but she could never know for sure what happened in a household after one of her caseworkers walked out the door. This was the most maddening part of the job: Even if you clocked 60 or more hours a week, even if you managed to keep track of every case, there was simply no way to stop every parent hellbent on scalding—or killing—their kid. As Bell puts it, “You don’t have any real control over human behavior.”
Read this entire excellent article here.
If you don’t have time to read, then at least listen to the NPR interview of the article’s author, Jennifer Gonnerman, here.
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