Thursday, February 15, 2007

Protect social workers from the dangers they face in removing a child from an abusive home

Lawmakers: Take the danger out of social work
Alford, Roger. Kentucky Post, Feb. 8, 2007, pg. A14.

Reacting to the grisly murder of a Kentucky child welfare worker during a home visit, Gov. Ernie Fletcher and a bipartisan group of lawmakers are pushing a bill intended to take some of the risk out of what they say can be one of the nation's most dangerous jobs.

Boni Frederick was stabbed and beaten when she took a 10-month-old boy to his mother's house for a visit in Henderson in October. Her death focused attention on the risks social workers face in volatile situations and created a groundswell of support for what's being called the Boni Bill.

The legislation, introduced Wednesday, would give all state social workers two-way radios equipped with panic buttons. It also would require that supervised visits between birth parents and their abused or neglected children take place in neutral locations.

"When you get involved with removing children from a home, it gets very, very dangerous," said state Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, sponsor of the bill. "You don't know what your reaction would be if someone came in to take your child away."

If the bill passes, Kentucky would be the first state to enact a law to protect social workers in at least two years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The legislation will cost some $20 million to be fully implemented over the next two to three years, Burch said. The bill is scheduled to be debated in the House Health and Welfare Committee today. Burch, chairman of the committee, said it will be presented to the full House for a vote early next week.

It would add 375 new social workers to the 1,400 now on the state payroll, said Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, D-Hazard. The additional workers would make it easier to pair up employees who go into risky situations.

Burch said the neutral locations may include state welfare offices, local health departments, even churches. However, some lawmakers also want to open secure visitation centers across the state.

"It's scary knocking on someone's door and not knowing what's on the other side," said Liz Wade, a social worker from Glasgow.

Wade said efforts by Fletcher and lawmakers to pass protective legislation is appreciated by everyone who works on the front lines to protect children.

"This bill by no means answers all the needs ... but it is a foundation that we can build on," Burch said at a press conference at the Capitol.

Fletcher, a Republican, said the issue transcends politics and that he supports funding initiatives in the bill.

"I consider this an urgent need," Fletcher said.

Prosecutors contend that Renee Terrell, 33, and Christopher Luttrell, 23, killed Frederick at Terrell's home, stole Frederick's car and kidnapped Terrell's son. He was found safe and returned to foster care after a three-day manhunt.

Terrell and Luttrell have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, kidnapping, robbery and theft.


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