Child protection team report notes need for child welfare worker

Published 10:04pm Monday, April 21, 2014

Polk County Commissioners heard recently that there were 270 child protection reports made in 2013 with 199 of those meeting the legal criteria for an assessment/investigation.
Polk County’s community child protection team said this year’s requests include to restore the Polk County Department of Social Service (DSS) welfare position, requiring Polk’s mental health local management entity (LME) Smoky Mountain Center to aggressively pursue an intensive outpatient treatment provider for substance abuse in the county and to provide funding for more training in child abuse and neglect.
Commissioners met April 7 and reviewed the 2013 Polk County Community Child Fatality Prevention and Protection Team report.
The Polk County Department of Social Services (DSS) has had a total of 48 children in its legal custody this year with 41 in legal custody as of April 7, DSS director Lou Parton told commissioners.
Commissioner Ray Gasperson said the county has talked about support for keeping children in their own homes in the past saying DSS has made him realize how much better a child is when DSS works with the family.
Parton said that it is better to work to try to keep children from being removed from their homes. She said the school system does a great job and if the county could open up afterschool programs for all children that would help. She said the community helps children and is an added protection for a family.
Parton said one issue is substance abuse and there is currently no outpatient service in the county.
Child protection team member and child forensic interviewer Kiesa Kay told commissioners the single thing they could do in addition to requiring Smoky Mountain to have outpatient services is to restore the child welfare position in DSS.
She said the staff is doing the very best it can with the resources it has.
“You are in the power to restore that position and I pray that you will,” Kay said.
Parton also said it would be helpful to have some additional funding to offer more community awareness.  Parton mentioned a “Darkness to Light” training currently being done by Kay, which shows the impacts of child sexual abuse. She said if there was extra funding DSS could try to offer additional training to the community as well as for child protection team members.
“I know I’m going to take this with me and into the budget and keep this in mind,” said commissioner vice chair Michael Gage.
In 2013, Polk County’s DSS provided child protective services to an average of 66 families each month.
The Community Child Fatality Prevention and Protection Team reviewed four child protective cases during 2013. Three of the cases involved serious neglect and one involved both abuse and neglect.
“Fortunately, there were no child deaths or injuries meeting the requirements for review,” states the protection team’s report.
During the child protective service reviews, the following were identified by the team relating to child maltreatment:
Substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues, physical abuse, poor parenting skills (inappropriate supervision, inappropriate discipline), child custody issues, limited family support, family discord, emotional abuse, unstable and inadequate living arrangements, poverty, unemployment, financial stressors, insufficient services in community and unreliable transportation.
Gaps in services, system deficiencies or other barriers to child protection included reduction in DSS child welfare staff to adequately provide thorough assessments and services to children and families; limited law enforcement resources to address illegal drug manufacture, use and trade; limited mental health resources; lack of recovery connections/poor support systems for parents attempting to break away from their substance misuse; limited decent/legal employment opportunities for low skill/education levels and lack of organized substance abuse prevention programs.
Strategies to address gaps include to restore DSS child welfare position; continue child abuse and neglect community awareness emphasis; advocate for increased law enforcement resources; advocate for a drug court to address specific substance abuse related crimes with treatment oriented sentencing; free-standing abuse group/treatment with a minimal fee; develop mental health resources to move from crisis mode to a recovery community with care coordination/management; local management entity be more aggressive in developing appropriate services, specifically, intensive outpatient program for substance abuse treatment and develop a “triage” methodology for service provision-invest available resources in individuals motivated for change with most potential for success.
The team’s report concluded that many of the issues presented in previous reports to commissioners still remain the same.
“Sustance abuse, mental health, unstable living situations, inadequate parenting, domestic violence, etc. all impact the health and wellness of families affected by child abuse and neglect and thus our entire community,” states the report. “In your role as Polk County Commissioner, we ask that each of you be aware of the needs that are prevalent and the opportunities you have to make a difference.”
The Darkness to Light Stewards of Children training is scheduled for April 29 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Steps to HOPE in Columbus. For more information email

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