Children Falling Through the Cracks

What's to blame: a broken system or negligent social workers?

Posted: 04/11/2011 03:52 PM EDT
Filed Under abuse

Childreen Falling Through the Cracks

In an unprecedented move, social workers with New York City's Administration of Child Services are now being criminally charged for failing to protect children under their care. Many ACS workers are pointing the finger at a broken system filled with a glut of cases and understaffed, underpaid and overworked employees left to pick up the slack. But when the lives of children are at stake, who is to blame when the last line of defense fails?

Last month, New York City social worker Damon Adams and his supervisor, Chereece Bell, were arrested and charged with criminally negligent homicide, official misconduct in the death of 4-year-old Marchella Brett-Pierce. The child was routinely beaten and starved and weighed only 18 pounds when she died. Adams is accused of not making his required routine visits to the household and falsifying records after the child's death as instructed by higher ups.

Since Bell and Adams were charged, fellow ACS workers have taken to the streets in protest, blaming a system that saddles case workers with an almost impossible number of cases. Was Adams just too busy to properly fill out his paperwork?

"The case workers are not killing children. There are too many cases and not enough workers," said Joe Nazario, an official with Social Service Employees Union Local 371, which organized demonstrations throughout the city. In a televised interview, union president Faye Moore stated that while it has been reported that caseworkers' workloads have been cut to an average of 10 cases, “anecdotally” the number is closer to 16.

So is it a case of ACS fudging the numbers in order to give the appearance that changes have indeed been made since the last highly publicized case where a child died alone, frightened and hurting? If so, are the charges brought against Bell and Adams nothing more than an overreaction to a terrible situation?

When a child dies in such a horrible fashion, the public wants to someone to punish. Going after the social workers, who are many times the last line of defense for the defenseless, doesn't just attack “negligent” workers, it attacks the whole system. It's obvious that ACS needs more reform to prevent another Marchella, but what it doesn't need are social workers that are afraid to do their jobs for fear of incurring a prison sentence.

Should the ACS workers have been charged in Marchella Brett-Pierce's death or is this a case of gross overreaction? Share your thoughts in the comments section.



(Photo: Brent Stirton/Getty)