Thursday, February 01, 2007

Social workers appear to taunt picketers

Child protection picketed
Protesters say cabinet unfair to families
Hannah, Jim. Cincinnati Enquirer, Jan. 27, 2007, pg. B1.

COVINGTON - Tammy Ross said she believes being poor caused her to lose her four children about five years ago.

A tearful Ross was among six people who picketed at noon on Friday across the street from the Cabinet for Families and Children.

"See how they act toward us because we don't have money?" Ross said while pointing at two women waving and smiling at her from a third-story window of the cabinet's office at Sixth Street and Madison Avenue.

The 42-year-old Covington resident said she felt as if the social workers who took her children away were mocking her.

"But that's OK," she later said. "I have God on my side today."

Ross vowed to show up next Friday with a permit from the city to hold a rally after briefly speaking with Mayor Butch Callery, who spotted the group while walking down the street.

Joel Griffith, a regional manager for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said he does not condone the employees waving and smiling from the windows.

"Were they being disrespectful? I do not know," he said several hours after the protesters dispersed. "Am I happy about what happened? No. Do I think it is appropriate? No. As a matter of fact, we have already gone to the whole building and said 'Folks, this isn't appropriate behavior.' "

Griffith said confidentiality rules prevented him from speaking about specific cases such as Ross', but he strives to treat everyone with equal respect.

"As an administrator for this agency, I'm keenly aware of the importance of treating clients with respect and listening to their voices," he said. "There are lots of things we do in the cabinet to try to make that happen."

For example, when a Northern Kentucky child is removed from a home, an independent arbitrator presides over part of the process. Griffith said he wants someone in the room to make sure everyone has an equal voice.

He said closing surveys with the families show that 80 percent or more do feel like their voices were heard.

"In the vast majority of times we do OK," Griffith said.

He said the cabinet did not learn of the planned protest until a social worker noticed a flier hanging in a courthouse earlier in the week.

He said the idea of a protest taking place in front of the office worried some employees of the cabinet, who are already shaken by the October killing of a state social worker in Henderson.

A woman and her boyfriend upset about losing a child allegedly killed the social worker during a family visit.

A security guard was hired to monitor the front door in anticipation of the protest. Griffith said someone had doused the office door with a flammable liquid about two weeks ago and threatening signs had been found at the cabinet's Newport office.

"There is a level of hypervigilance that we are trying to adjust to here," Griffith said.

The Covington picket appears to be part of a small but growing movement to reform the state's child-welfare system. About 75 people attended a public forum in Frankfort last week to give suggestions on how to improve the system.

The forum was prompted after the state inspector general found that some social workers in the cabinet's Hardin County region had lied in court, falsified records and mistreated families they were supervising.

Sandra Markley, 48, of Covington said any reforms would not repair the damage done to her family. She said her four grandchildren were removed from her daughter's home after her son-in-law was found guilty of abusing them.

"They said my daughter didn't protect her children," Markley said. "My daughter was severely beaten by her husband trying to protect them. The courts just didn't understand battered wives syndrome."


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