Several N.J. child welfare offices receive death threats

By Susan K. Livio NJ Advance Media

Eight state child welfare offices have received calls this week "threatening to shoot up the site or kill everyone in the building," according to emails from the Department of Children and Families obtained by NJ Advance Media.

The anonymous calls targeted the Burlington, Bergen South, Cape May, Camden Central, Camden North, West Middlesex, Randolph and Voorhees offices, according to emails from senior department officials. Local and N.J. Human Services police officers have stepped up security measures at these locations, according to the emails.

"In all cases local police have been contacted and are either on site or en-route," according to the email sent Wednesday by John Ramos, Jr., executive assistant to Assistant Commissioner for the Division of Child Protection & Permanency.

A spokesman for the Department of Children and Families, the division's parent agency, Thursday morning confirmed the offices received threatening calls.

"Yesterday several Child Protection and Permanency local offices received telephone threats," said spokesman Ernest Landante. "There have been no incidents reported in connection with the threats.

"Law enforcement was immediately notified and assessed the situation, determining the offices could continue normal operations," Landante added. "As a precaution, extra security has been assigned to these local offices.  Law enforcement is investigating the calls."

Hetty Rosenstein, state director for Communications Workers of America, the labor union, said Wednesday night she was not aware of any incidents connected to the threats. She also said she couldn't recall child welfare employees ever receiving a pattern of threats like this before.

But the menacing calls intensified concerns about workplace safety. In August, a woman in Vermont shot and killed the child welfare case worker who was involved with placing her daughter into foster care. Three New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency employees were assaulted since November.

The calls demonstrate the need for the Christie administration to reconstitute the unit in the Human Services police department dedicated to accompanying child welfare workers on dangerous calls and in some cases working from DC&PP offices, Rosenstein said.

"These are some of the most dangerous jobs in the state," Rosentein said. "This cannot wait until a worker is killed. We can't wait for management to act. That's why we have asked Senate President (Stephen) Sweeney and Assemblywoman (Valerie Vainieri) Huttle to sponsor Leah's Law, and provide workers with a safe place to do their critically important work. "

The legislation, (A4638) is named for Leah Coleman, a child welfare worker who was critically injured in November when a client attacked her with a knife inside the Camden office.

"How can we expect them to keep abused children safe when they are living in fear? Enhancing protections for our child welfare employees is necessary for them and for the children they serve," Huttle said.

Susan K. Livio may be reached at slivio@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.