Sunday, May 20, 2007

Social workers deserve to be protected

Beyond the Boni Bill Louisville Courier Journal, May 12, 2007, pg. A8.

If salaries were measured on the Richter scale, the pay of most social workers would barely register. Yet, they fill some of the toughest jobs in state government — for example, when they must meet face to face with people about to lose custody of their children.

So, the new, statewide, computerized Critical Incident Reporting System represents a badly needed safety upgrade. Through it, social workers can quickly alert their superiors about threats and other security concerns. In turn, those potential risks can be tracked and, if warranted, other agencies can be called in. Previously, workers filled out paper reports and mailed or faxed them to Frankfort.

Technology is a beautiful thing, and early indications are that the new system is a big hit. Since it was started up in November, 246 incident reports have been logged, including 33 that resulted in law-enforcement and/or emergency medical officials being notified.

It's impossible to know if the system would have saved Boni Frederick, the social service aide who was murdered last October when she took a baby for a final visit with its mother before it was put up for adoption.

But Ms. Frederick's death obviously put the heat on state government. In March, the General Assembly passed the "Boni Bill," with the aim of putting more social workers on the front lines and making it safer them to do their jobs.

And there's more to come.

Mark Birdwhistell, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told the safety study group formed after Ms. Frederick's death that it's his job to come up with more recommendations to be considered by the General Assembly next year.

Meanwhile, we'll know how seriously Kentucky takes its responsibility to protect abused and neglected children by the degree to which it acts to protect the state workers sent in to rescue them.