In light of the latest attack on state child protection caseworkers, Assembly Human Services Committee Chair Valerie Vainieri Huttle is pushing legislation she recently introduced to better protect workers from the kind of attacks that left one seriously injured in November and sent two others to the hospital yesterday.
"It's clear that we need to be doing a better job to protect these caseworkers. They are going out into the field unprotected to handle emotional and often tenuous situations. The possibility for confrontation always looms, which makes it all the more confusing as to why the administration diverted Human Services police officers in the first place."
Vainieri Huttle's bill (A-4638), introduced last month, would require the Division of Child Protection and Permanency in the Department of Children and Families to implement policies and procedures to ensure the safety of every caseworker employed by the division and require Human Services police officers or state troopers to accompany them into the field when needed.
"If we allow these types of security lapses to remain, these employees will continue to be at risk. We need to recruit and retain qualified, committed caseworkers. How can we do that if they do not feel safe? The severity of the attacks we've witnessed over the last year warrant comprehensive policies and tactical procedures to ensure the safety of these workers while they're out there trying to protect the welfare of some of our most vulnerable children," added Vainieri Huttle.
The policies and procedures would address issues of safety when a caseworker receives a threat of violence from a client, or is presented with a potentially dangerous situation while working in a local office, investigating a report of child abuse or neglect in the field, or making an emergency removal of a child pursuant to current law.
Under the provisions of the bill, in order to ensure the safety of a caseworker in a local office, the division would require that:
- A Human Services police officer or state trooper be assigned to every building where a local office is located to provide security and assistance to the caseworkers assigned to the office;
- Each local office be equipped with a metal detector or metal detector wands operated by the Human Services police officer or State trooper assigned to the local office;
- A panic button be installed in every meeting room in which a caseworker meets with a client; and
- At least one meeting or conference room in each local office be equipped with a two-way mirror located to allow for the observation of the room by the Human Services police officer or State trooper assigned to the office.
In order to ensure the safety of a caseworker when investigating a report of child abuse or neglect in the field or when making an emergency removal of a child, the division would require:
- A caseworker assigned to a home visit to be accompanied by another caseworker if certain conditions delineated in the bill are met;
- At the request of a caseworker or the caseworker's supervisor, the Human Services police officer or state trooper assigned to the caseworker's local office would accompany and assist the caseworker when conducting an investigation in a high crime area or making an emergency removal; and
- The Human Services police officer or state trooper assigned to a local office would be available to a caseworker within 30 minutes of a request to accompany and assist the caseworker, except that in an emergency situation, the officer or trooper would be immediately available.
The provisions of the bill stipulate that when a caseworker, investigating a report of child abuse or neglect in the field or making an emergency removal of a child, is assigned to a home visit and is accompanied by another caseworker, nothing would prohibit the division, at the request of the caseworker or the caseworker's supervisor, from requiring that a Human Services police office or State trooper assigned to the caseworker's local office accompany or assist the caseworker while on the home visit, if appropriate.
The bill also requires that each local office implement a caseworker safety intervention plan. The plan would, at a minimum:
- Establish specific procedures to follow when a caseworker is facing or responding to a situation that poses a threat to the safety and well-being of the caseworker, whether in the local office, in the field, or when making an emergency removal of a child;
- Specify when to request the assistance of the Human Services police officer or State trooper assigned to the caseworker's local office and how to initiate such requests; and
- Be posted in a conspicuous place in the local office and a copy of the plan would be provided to every staff member assigned to the office.
The bill has been referred to the Assembly Human Services Committee chaired by Vainieri Huttle.