Monday, April 02, 2007

Over 75% of social workers have been verbally or physically attacked

Bill to protect social workers gains approval
Alford, Roger. Kentucky Post, March 28, 2007, pg. A13.

Lawmakers reacted to the grisly slaying of a social worker by approving a bill intended to lessen the dangers faced by others working in the same occupation.

Under the measure, named in honor of slain social worker Boni Frederick, visits between birth parents and abused or neglected children take place in secure locations.

Lawmakers pushed the Boni Bill through late Tuesday, the last day of the legislative session.

Frederick died in October after being stabbed and beaten when she took a 10-month-old boy for a visit at the house of his mother, 33-year-old Renee Terrell. Prosecutors say Terrell and her 23-year-old boyfriend, Christopher Luttrell, killed Frederick, stole her car and kidnapped the boy. 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.

The measure appropriates $6 million to institute safety procedures, including opening regional visitation centers and hiring 60 to 80 additional social workers.

Money was also set aside for other safety measures, which could include purchasing two-way radios with panic buttons for all social workers, said state Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, who served on a joint House and Senate committee that hammered out the final details.

Frederick's daughter, Sandy Travis of Dixon, said she was relieved that the bill passed and is on its way to Gov. Ernie Fletcher to be signed into law. Travis had lobbied for the bill in several appearances at the Capitol.

"This has devastated my whole family," Travis said. "If I got up in the morning and read where another social worker was killed like my mother was killed, it would hurt just as bad."

Gov. Ernie Fletcher said earlier Tuesday that lawmakers were playing politics with the legislation. Fletcher had assigned Health and Family Services Secretary Mark Birdwhistell to help House and Senate lawmakers reach the compromise.

"It's been a long journey, but we're very pleased that the provisions of the Boni Bill are now passed," Birdwhistell said. "We can move forward with protecting the health and safety of our social workers."

State Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, said he was upset that it took so long to get lawmakers to approve the measure, which can save the lives of social workers.

"That's the sad thing," Burch said. "Somebody has to die for these people to take any action."

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

State Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, D-Hazard, said he had doubts in recent weeks whether the measure would pass.

Mongiardo had been involved in drafting the legislation, listening to the concerns of social workers from across the state on what's needed to make them safer.

"Over 75 percent of social workers have been verbally or physically attacked," he said. "It's obvious that what we've done to this point has not been enough."


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