The Real Reasons for Child Abuse Deaths

It’s easy enough to see how people can leap to the conclusion that the deaths of children “known to the system” must be the result of “family preservation” or the federal law requiring agencies to make “reasonable efforts” to keep families together.

After all, the cases seem so obvious — especially in hindsight. Often they were not the
“tough calls.” And almost everyone in the system has a vested interest in promoting the idea that it was the fault of a law or a policy over which they have no control. But the real reasons children “known to the system” die are very different. And those reasons are well within the control of many of those who point the finger at family preservation.

When children known to the system die, it is usually because the system is overwhelmed with children who don’t need to be in foster care at all.

• In most states, a bachelor’s degree in any subject is all that is required to become a child protective worker. After hiring, training generally ranges from minimal to none.

* Turnover on the job is constant. The worker who goes to a troubled family is likely to have little experience.

• Working conditions can be appalling. In some child protective offices several workers share a phone, in others workers keep files in their cars or piled under their desks.

• Caseloads often are are enormous, often double, triple or more than the average called for in national standards established by the Child Welfare League of America.

These untrained, inexperienced workers with overwhelming caseloads are sent out to make life and death decisions.

And then, when something goes wrong, the people responsible for creating these appalling conditions blame “reasonable efforts” or “family preservation” because the alternative is to
blame themselves.

Consider some of the very cases that have gotten the most media attention:

• The case of Adam Mann, killed by his mother in New York City. A city caseworker
investigating that case acknowledged that she closed the case after only cursory investigation
because she had “60 or 70 other cases” and didn’t have time to investigate thoroughly.

• The case of Elisa Izquierdo, allegedly killed by her mother. She was not in a family
preservation program. But there was an agency working with the family. That agency contacted
her child protective worker to warn that Elisa was in danger. The worker said he could do nothing because he was too busy with other cases. (2)

• The case of Joseph Wallace, killed by his mother in Chicago. In that case, a family
preservation worker recommended that the family not be preserved — he recommended to a judge that the child be removed. The judge agreed. The child was removed, but the records were lost when the family moved to another county. Only then was the child sent home to his death.3

Not only was family preservation not the cause of the Wallace death — family preservation almost saved Joseph Wallace’s life. Yet the Wallace death was blamed on “family preservation” and set off a massive foster care panic.

One of the reasons family preservation is safer than foster care is because family preservation workers generally are better trained than child protective workers. And because they spend so much time with a family, they are often the first to see when a family can’t be preserved — and, contrary to critics’ claims, family preservation workers do indeed place the safety of the children first.

Child protective workers are overwhelmed in part because they are forced to investigate so many cases that either are false reports or involve the confusion of poverty with neglect.

CPS officials and frontline workers know it:

From Washington State: “Child Protective Services staff are faced with violating policy by declining to investigate clearly low risk complaints or spending time and energy [on
them] at the expense of having adequate time [for] more serious situations”4

From North Carolina: “Current legal definitions of neglect are so broad that protective
services intervene in some situations where there is no substantial risk of harm to children …This … takes an inordinate amount of staff time for investigating…”5

When Florida workers were surveyed about barriers to doing their jobs well 63 percent cited “responding to minor neglect reports” and 64 percent cited “completing reports on obviously unfounded cases.”6

Commenting on another notorious child abuse death, the case of Lisa Steinberg, child
protective worker Keith Richards wrote: “It’s fortunate we haven’t lost more kids like Lisa than we have.

We’re running around checking out three dozen other referrals concerning dirty
houses and tiny bruises.”7

Since these are the real problems, the real solutions involve tough choices — screening out some cases and either spending more money or changing how money is spent. A lot of elected officials don’t want to do that. And for agency administrators to admit that
children die merely because their workers are overworked and under trained is for them to admit that the deaths are at least partly their own fault instead of pointing fingers and finding excuses of being overworked and underpaid. Is unheard of.

Remember Terrell Peterson? A 5 year old child who was murdered by his Grandmother Pharina Peterson. Not before suffering his full little life years of abuse by his Grandmother and his mother. The state of Georgia failed to protect him from his abusers and ended in a gross argument with case workers wanting to point their fingers saying they were overworked and underpaid. What were the states excuses as to the reasons for the failure of protecting Terrell? The justice for this child was not served and to this day children are still being murdered while DFCS workers sit by and not even pay the children one lousy visit a month for their protection.

The Governor of Georgia Nathan Deal thinks that revamping case workers for DFCS is going to be enough to solve the problems of this states Child Protection Services. While case workers fall short in education for meeting standards when investigating these types of cases, it is going to take more than this to revamp DFCS/Child Protective Services.

How much easier it is for all concerned to scapegoat laws and policies over which they have
little or no control.
Updated April 15, 2014
Paige Roberts

1. Carole Langer (producer), “Who Killed Adam Mann,” Frontline, December 3, 1991.
2. Nina Bernstein, “She Suffered in Plain Sight But Alarms Were Ignored,” The New York Times, Dec.24, 1995, p.1
3. Joel J. Bellows, et. al., The Report of the Independent Committee to Inquire into the Practices, Processes, and Proceedings in the
Juvenile Court as they Relate to the Joseph Wallace Cases, Oct. 1, 1993.
4. Governor’s Child Protective Services Review Team, Crisis in Children’s Services, March, 1987, p.21
5. Mary Lee Anderson, Program Manager for Child Protective Services, State of North Carolina, in response to a survey from the U.S.
House of Representatives Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, quoted in transcript of the Committee’s hearing, March 3,
1987, p.4
6. State of Florida Study Commission on Child Welfare, A Survey of Florida’s Child Protective Investigators, April, 1991, pp.10,28
7. Keith Richards, Tender Mercies: Inside the World of a Child Abuse Investigator (Chicago: The Noble Press/Child Welfare League of
America, 1992).
8. Did Terrell Peterson Have to Die, (Jane Hansen, Atlanta Journal Constitution, 1999)


About gacoalition4childprotectionreform1

For the past 10 years I have been researching family law, constitutional law dealing with deprivation and DFCS/CPS. While I am not a lawyer, I am a special family rights law Advocate; advocating families who have been disrupted by the department of family and children services.
This entry was posted in DFCS Child Deaths (new), Family Rights, Georgia Abuse Cases, My Local News, NCCPR, Terrell Peterson. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The Real Reasons for Child Abuse Deaths

  1. ronnie36ronnie511 says:

    I think they should employ ONLY qualified AND dedicated people into the DFCS!!Not every Dick Tom and Harry CARES for the safety of children,it seems they are doing “just another job” sort of thing here!IF they CARED about those children many would still be alive today!Just my view on all these untimely deaths of these unfortunate children!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. gacoalition4childprotectionreform1 says:

    I agree with that Nellie!! wholeheartedly, most of the newbies I think do care but the older generation who have been working for DFCS do not care whatsoever… (( hugs ))


  3. gacoalition4childprotectionreform1 says:

    Reblogged this on .


  4. Joe Burns says:

    Paige, may I congratulate you on this excellent piece, you have a very good understanding on the issues. In my 6 years of research I have struggled with many of the questions you address here but I came to a different conclusion on a few of them.

    The problem of the 6 times death rate and the 10 times suicide rate of children in “Care” is not due to heavy caseloads, it is down to 2 other factors;

    1/ We are asking social workers to do a job they are not trained for and will never be capable of doing properly.

    2/ Social workers wouldn’t recognise abuse if they sat in the living room 60 times and watched it occur.

    1/ We are asking them to prevent child abuse from occurring in the future where no abuse or neglect has taken place. This was described by British MP John Hemming as the “Thought Police” approach to Child Protection. 70% of children removed in the UK are removed on “Future Risk of Emotional Abuse”. We used to talk about children “in need” and a shift by the UNICEF changed the term to “At Risk” (presumably of being in need). Social workers are there to control society to ensure better outcomes in deprived areas. it doesn’t quite work that way as you know. Nobody can predict future outcomes for children. Social workers don’t do investigation, they do assessments. None of their work is based on science or is evidenced based. They rely heavily on Psychology and Social “Science”, neither of which has any scientific basis, at least in the way that I understand science. The child is taken and placed at higher risk in “Care”. A perfect example of the stupidity of the system is that if a girl was in “Care” for any significant time, she is 66 TIMES more likely to have her child removed and placed in “Care”. It’s a self propagating system.

    2/ In the famous Baby P case, social workers visited Peter’s home 60 TIMES and never saw the threshold to intervention being met. If they had been trained in investigation they would have considered the Risk Factors. What would have tipped me off was the nutcase living upstairs with two rottweiller dogs who had been previously investigated for abusing a toddler but nobody checked until Peter was murdered. Social workers cleverly used to to say the usual rhetoric; high caseloads, shortage of social workers, not enough powers etc. When most countries added more social workers, the result was more children taken into “Care”, so essentially the rate of children dying and being abuse only increased because more children were in “Care”. The numbers of children in “Care” in most countries has doubled in a decade but the crime statistics have not increased in decades. What should have been learned is that social workers should have no role in the investigation of crime. If a parent is stoned out of their minds on drugs or drunk then jail them for child abuse and take the child away based on a crime against the child. You are absolutely correct that most children don’t need to be in “Care”, this is a Human Rights abuse of No Punishment Without Crime to the child as well as the parents.

    Again, as you know, this not how the system works. The “Precautionary Principle of Social Services” means that children are taken on the basis of suspicion only. The public assume the child will return home when the parent is found innocent but this rarely happens, CPS never make mistakes as you said so the reason why the “Care” Orders change from one order to another is because when they cant prove one reason they invent another.

    Social workers cant be investigators and advocates at the same time, the roles are incompatible. Social workers and governments should leave crime to the Police and let social workers do what they are trained for which is advocacy. The system is the very definition of the word Stupidity, it fulfils Einsteins prophesy of repeating the same mistakes over and over and expecting a different outcome every time.

    Joe Burns

    Liked by 1 person

    • gacoalition4childprotectionreform1 says:

      Thanks Joe, I agree, I was trying to think of ways that social workers could better the system and you hit the nail on the head!! I wonder if they will ever get it right… But as long as they are putting money in their pockets they are grasping for straws and the “care” part you mentioned is correct. This was Nancy Schaefer’s plight in fixing a non repairable system. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this. It baffles me at what “they” do to try and change things, I think they are just trying a diversion for the public and the media.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joe Burns says:

        The simple solution is to reduce the number of social workers in CPS, that way less children will die or be harmed. Remove the responsibility of investigation of the crimes of child abuse and neglect from SW’s and give it to Police. Then tell SW’s their job is family preservation only.

        Police have known for decades that when you put more police officers in an area that crime INCREASES because detection rates soar.

        Liked by 1 person

    • ronnie36ronnie511 says:

      Joe I agree with you 100% on this! After all murdering children IS a criminal offence and therefore the police’s work!!!I cannot understand though that none of these murderers or abusers are not put in jail!!!!Neglect from the Police Departments????OR not reported at all by the SW’s??????

      Liked by 1 person

  5. gacoalition4childprotectionreform1 says:

    HI Joe, can I use your information in my report I am writing to our Governor


  6. gacoalition4childprotectionreform1 says:

    THIS gives me a great idea on how to start my report. Thank you so much all of you..


    • ronnie36ronnie511 says:

      Negligence is all it is! CARING also!PRIDE in their jobs is non existing !They are ONLY doing a job,therefore screening of these people before they even GET this kind of job is crucial!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. gacoalition4childprotectionreform1 says:

    That is true there, most of your workers are not compassionate about their jobs and I don’t know their real reasons for taking this position. I wonder how many are really screened for this type of job. Some foster children have been known to be placed in with criminals even in with child molester’s and this is so sickening for that worker to do this.


  8. gacoalition4childprotectionreform1 says:

    Don’t forget the $$$ side of adoptions and foster care, this is the REAL reason people work at these jobs. You’d be shocked at how much money comes through the pockets of these people.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. ronnie36ronnie511 says:

    As I said before,sounds more like a money making racket!!!!!


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