Monday, January 22, 2007

Kentucky's Other Lottery has been exposed

Editorial: Repulsive mess -
Social-services scandal needs strong cleaner.
Lexington Herald-Leader, Jan. 19, 2007, pg. A12.

Sadistic and criminal aren't words usually associated with social workers. But they come to mind while reading the results of a yearlong investigation into a Kentucky child-protection bureaucracy that was allowed to go rogue.

Social workers gave each other nicknames like "The Queen of Removal" and "Terminator" and laughed as they stripped children from their parents.

Workers and supervisors lied and falsified documents to cover up their misconduct and misled an accrediting agency. Those who protested or tried to report the abuses were targeted for retaliation, while some of those responsible were rewarded.

Not all, or even most, of the social workers in the eight-county Lincoln Trail area, based in Elizabethtown, are guilty of the abuses of government power detailed by Inspector General Robert J. Benvenuti III.

And such abuses are not confined to Lincoln Trail.

But that's not much consolation.

It underlines the "luck of the draw" quality of life-changing decisions being made about children and their families. "Kentucky's Other Lottery" is the apt title of the report by child advocates that launched the Inspector General's investigation.

The good news is that the scathing review was commissioned by the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which administers Lincoln Trail and the rest of Kentucky's community-based services offices.

If the cabinet is willing to air its nasty linen, maybe it will also deal aggressively with the problems the report revealed. A lot of people are watching to see how the cabinet responds.

Kentucky's social workers expose themselves daily to great danger for little pay while making difficult judgment calls on which the safety and well-being of children hinge.

Social worker Boni Frederick was killed last year while supervising an in-home visit between a foster child and his biological mother.

No one is criticizing the judgment calls required in the course of a day's work. But what developed within Lincoln Trail was pernicious and rotten -- an "attitude of supremacy" toward clients and the public, according to the IG's report.

The report identified 13 possible criminal violations that were turned over to a local prosecutor, along with various violations of cabinet policy.

The inspector general also issued a list of recommendations, some of which would require legislation and some of which the cabinet could accomplish by itself.

A blue-ribbon task force was already at work on reforms aimed at correcting abuses in the processes for terminating parental rights and adoption.

But no amount of legislation or reorganization can clean out all the rottenness that this investigation exposed.

The responsible parties should be held accountable.


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