By Carmen Glover
After work obligations caused me to be late more than once in picking up my daughter from after-school at her elementary Catholic school, I finally decided to resign from my high-profile job as press attaché at the Consulate General of Jamaica in New York.
I immediately took my daughter on a one-month trip to Florida for fun in the sun, then worked as a full-time freelance journalist before deciding to try the social service field, which, despite a significant cut in salary, offered more stable hours. At one point during my hiatus from full-time journalism, I worked for an agency that was contracted with the Administration for Children’s Services, ACS, purportedly to protect vulnerable children and strengthen families that struggled with substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, educational, legal, financial and other challenges.
What I saw, however, was quite the opposite. Arrogant and lazy ACS workers looked down on agency workers like me. They conducted haphazard investigations when reports of child abuse and neglect were made. Many of them did not visit the children’s schools, daycare centers or day treatment programs, instead hounding the agency workers for ‘updates’ and proceeding to admonish us when we had none to offer as yet. Most significantly, they staunchly blamed the agency workers when things went wrong, wrapping themselves into the cocoon that the ACS cover provided. The result was that children suffered and died.
I am grateful that in the nine years that I worked in the field no child died from my case load but other workers were not as fortunate. With each report of an innocent child dying at the hands of irresponsible, abusive parents such as the recent case of Zymere Perkins, 6, whose mother Geraldine Perkins, 26, and her ex-con boyfriend Rysheim Smith, 42, allegedly beat him often, my heart weeps, even as I know deep down that it will happen again.
I can recall countless joint home visits where the ACS staff arrived more than 30 minutes late, bossed us around, checked for food, barked out details about an upcoming conference and then left the home, arriving after I did and leaving before me, barely glancing at the children in the home, much less taking the time to conduct a comprehensive visit to ferret out any problems and zoom in on red flags.
They showed more interest in basking in titles rather than any genuine desire to keep the children safe. Their case notes and reports were sparse, oftentimes they plagiarized my notes. They lacked detailed knowledge about the families but, again, their focus seemed to be designed to belittle the agency workers while elevating themselves, showing scant regard for their innocent charges: the children.
At the other end of the spectrum were the parents, many of whom had numerous prior cases to the extent that having involvement with ACS and preventive agencies was a way of life. As soon as they signed up for services they began to ask for things: beds, money, food, Thanksgiving items and Christmas presents. It seemed like a quid pro quo: parents accepted preventive services to avoid a court case with ACS but all through the process the parents’ have one major goal and that is to get as many ‘free’ things as possible from the agency while pretending to agree that they need to change. As soon as the case is closed, they resume their dysfunctional lifestyles, often having another case opened after some time elapses.
Children were routinely told to lie to the workers and when a worker who had investigative background like I did as a journalist, supervisors often became jealous of the worker’s ability to connect the dots. In the meantime, the children suffered, because the agency workers did all the legwork while the ACS workers took the credit, were better paid and declined to provide thorough follow even through they were empowered to do so since they had stronger resources.
Then when a child died, City Hall unveiled a multitude of initiatives, uttered ineffective words of comfort until the publicity and furor lessened. Then the next child would die and the vicious cycle was repeated. But there will be no end in sight because there is no system in place to track families long-term after they have contact with ACS. Meanwhile, ACS workers are simply trying to shift the cases from their case load to that of the preventive agency so that they can move on to a new case. Nothing improves and children die.
Perhaps now that I am back to working full-time as a journalist, I can effect some change.–OnPointPress.net–