Social workers trying to handle child abuse spike

April 30, 2010 6:40:54 AM PDT
Social workers in Cumberland County are scrambling to get a handle on a spike in reported child abuse cases. Last month, the number of reported cases jumped 46 percent. There were 427 reported cases of child abuse in Cumberland County involving more than 800 children.

The Department of Social Services is looking into more than 300 of those cases involving about 600 children.

"They feel like they're missing red flags risks," Children Services Assistant Director Heather Skeens said. "They are not able to spend enough time with these families as they'd like to be able to really assess and protect children."

One child abuse case in Cumberland County recently shocked the nation. Five-year-old Shaniya Davis was raped and murdered last November. Cumberland County authorities say her mother gave her up to settle a drug debt.

Social workers say they were looking into allegations of child abuse at Davis' home before she was killed.

Meanwhile, workers say they can't explain the spike in child abuse and any increase in abuse is terrible news. But they say the one silver lining is that the public is reporting it.

"Clearly it means children are being protected and watched and assessed," Skeens said. "And so we don't want them not to call in to report. We just don't know the specific reason as to why the reports have gone up."

Skeen says the spike only increases the work load of social workers who are already carrying more than two times the amount of cases recommended by the state.

"For the most part, fully staffed, they carry from 10 to 12. If they're an assessor and typically 15 if they're a foster care worker," Skeens said. "Currently our assessors are carrying anywhere from 20 to 30 cases and our foster care workers are caring 15 to 25 children."

Right now, the push in on for finding qualified social workers, so another Shaniya Davis doesn't fall through the cracks.

Skeens says she spent all day Thursday interviewing applicants to fill several vacant child abuse investigator positions. But it would be nearly two months before a person hired would be able to take on any cases.

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