Monday, April 09, 2007

Fear and concern as a result of social worker's death

Fletcher signs social worker law
Measure will add security, staffing
Schreiner, Bruce. Kentucky Post, April 6, 2007, pg. A2.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher on Thursday signed into law a measure intended to make sure that the slaying of a Kentucky social worker won't happen again.

"I would hope, first of all, that we don't have to attend any more funerals of our workers," Fletcher said at a signing ceremony attended by a number of lawmakers and social workers at a state social service office.The legislation, named in western Kentucky social worker Boni Frederick's honor, is meant to strengthen on-the-job protections for social workers. It includes $6 million to hire additional social workers and improve safety.

The law will result in bolstered security at social workers' offices, a safer environment for visits between birth parents and abused or neglected children and technology aimed at ensuring social workers' safety.

Social workers also will have around-the-clock access to criminal records.

"Even though it wasn't everything that we wanted, it is a very good start," Fletcher said.

The original bill, backed by Fletcher's administration, called for about $20 million during the next 16 months to add more than 300 social services staffers, including 225 social workers.

Frederick, a Morganfield social services aide, died last October after being stabbed and beaten when she took a 10-month-old boy for a visit at his mother's house. The youngster was found safe and returned to foster care after a three-day manhunt. The boy's mother and her boyfriend have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, kidnapping, robbery and theft.

At the bill-signing ceremony, state Health and Family Services Secretary Mark Birdwhistell recalled an emotional meeting with social workers following Frederick's death.

"I saw fear; I saw concern," he said.

Northern Kentucky social worker Karen Ivie called the bill signing a "milestone event," and said the law includes features requested in studies from 1985 and 1995 -- long before a review following Frederick's death.

"Twenty-two years, three formal studies, years of public bashing or lack of understanding from the public, finally we're seeing the first steps in moving forward in a positive and meaningful way," Ivie said.

Some of Frederick's colleagues attended the signing ceremony. One of them, Henderson County social worker Kelly Shaw, said she hoped the safety measures would reach social workers quickly. She said on-the-job safety is a common concern.

"I'm glad to see something positive come out of this tragedy," Shaw said.

One important step to improve safety would be a "quick turnaround" on criminal checks to make social workers fully aware of situations before going out on calls, she said.

"We never know what we're walking into a lot of the times," Shaw said.


AP Photo/The courier-Journal, Pam Spaulding

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher shakes hands with social worker Karen Ivie at the signing of a law to improve social worker safety.

Author: Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press
Section: News
Page: A2


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