Child abuse, excessive caseloads, and Monroe County’s CPS

What happens when you call the CPS hotline. http://www.dorightbykids.org/.

The first part of the process when you call the CPS hotline.
http://www.dorightbykids.org/.

You know I rarely go on a public political rant, and I apologize for what I’m about to say, but I call bullshit on Monroe County’s Commissioner of Human Services, Corinda Crossdale.

Bull. Shit.

A little background: in November 2016, three-year-old Brook Stagles died from injuries suffered as a result of severe child abuse. Her injuries were so severe, according to news reports, that doctors in the emergency room at first thought she’d been hit by a car. Her father, Michael Stagles, was charged with criminally negligent homicide, and his girlfriend, Erica Bell, was charged with 2nd degree murder and 1st degree manslaughter.

The abusive situation had been reported to Monroe County Child Protective Services, but Brook’s grandfather, John Geer, believes the case slipped through the cracks due to a county department that is severely overburdened. Since Brook’s death, he has been outspoken in his criticism of the excessive caseloads CPS workers are carrying in the hopes that no other child has to suffer the same fate as his granddaughter.

Last week, local news station WHEC did a report on CPS caseloads, revealing that some caseworkers carry as many as 30 to 40 cases, far above the 12 cases recommended by experts like the Child Welfare League of America. Last night, 13WHAM did their own report, with similar findings.

The problem? While John Rabish, who sits on the board of the Federation of Social Workers, the union which represents social workers, says Monroe County’s CPS is in crisis, the Commissioner of Human Services in Monroe County disagrees.

In this 13WHAM investigation, Corinda Crossdale says: “I do not think we can make the assumption that every single case that our caseworkers work with are extraordinarily complicated.” In the WHEC story, she referred to some cases as “cases simply where the family needs help connecting to resources”.

I’m not privy to details about the inner workings of CPS. But I did work for a day care, and we were trained on what to do if we suspected any of our children were experiencing abuse or neglect. There’s a confidential number to call, which immediately begins an investigation. It’s no joke, every call is taken seriously, and even if the report turns out to be unfounded, a thorough investigation  has been set into motion.

cps-investigates-image

The process when CPS investigates a report. From the website http://www.dorightbykids.org/.

According to the county website, state law requires that an investigation “must start within 24 hours of the report, but often starts immediately.” A caseworker is sent to visit the family and talk to everyone involved – parents, extended family, mandated reporters like teachers or day care workers, whoever might have information regarding the situation. If the danger is imminent, action is taken right away. Whether the child stays in the home or not, the investigation continues. There are reports to be written, and court dates to appear at, and meetings to attend, hours and days spent investigating and evaluating and addressing the situation.

Take a moment to imagine the man hours it takes for one person to do this for 20 or 30 or 40 families simultaneously, and you realize very quickly that there are no  uncomplicated cases – “extraordinarily” or otherwise – when a child’s life and health and safety is on the line.

Or you can think about it this way. In 2010, the most recent year statistics were shared on the county website, 7,904 cases of abuse and neglect were reported in Monroe County. That was 21 new reports a day, 365 days a year. And even if a significant number of those cases were unfounded, due diligence needed to be done on each one to ensure that a child’s safety and well being are not in jeopardy.

And while Crossdale does compliment her employees as being “very resilient, very capable caseworkers”, she discounts the fact that they are also very human, and that there are only so many hours in a day for a caseworker to actually do the work, and that overwork on top of the daily exposure to abuse, neglect, and dangerous situations takes a toll on a caseworker’s own health and well being and family life.

Brook Stagles paid the ultimate price for the current situation CPS employees are facing, and kudos to John Geer for speaking out on her behalf, and on behalf of the overburdened, exhausted, defeated employees whose complaints have fallen on deaf ears. Maybe Brook’s voice, crying from the grave, will be the needed catalyst for change.

Because if Crossdale doesn’t stop trying to justify the obvious problems her department has, more children may suffer the same fate – and their blood will be on her hands.

End of rant. For the moment.

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Why all of the posts all of the sudden?

Just a quick note: if you got numerous notifications today that I’ve posted to the blog, my apologies. As much as I’d like to say that I’ve been writing my little heart out all day, I’m actually just moving some posts over from other blogs and posting drafts, and I forgot that even if I’m backdating the posts subscribers will get a notification.

Again, apologies for the nuisance! You can either ignore the notifications…or take some time to enjoy some very old posts…

Musing on pregnancy, abortion, and becoming a human

(This post originally ran on my blog at Patheos in July 2016)

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I was listening to the radio yesterday, something I don’t usually do, addicted as I am to podcasts like “RadioLab” and “Welcome to Nightvale.” But a local talk show was on, and I left it on, because when I do listen to talk radio I make sure to listen to both conservative and liberal perspectives. I like to hear many sides of an issue as I ponder where I stand on it and how my decisions affect other people.

Anyway, this local host was talking to her guest about abortion and she made a comment that I can’t get out of my head. She said that there is only one point in time when two humans occupy the same body – pregnancy – and that if we’ve made a decision that one of those humans is dispensable it’s because we’ve made a decision that one of those lives is more valuable than the other.

Which is kind of a stumbling block to abortion when you’re of the mindset that all lives matter.

Yes, I understand that her comments are rooted in the belief that an unborn baby is a human at the moment of conception vs. a bunch of cells that may one day become a human but aren’t yet.

But there’s a fact about pregnancy that we all can agree on: at some point, two humans occupy the same body.

If you think about it, it’s like something from a science fiction story. Baby, in the womb of the mother, growing, developing, feeding, moving, kicking the woman in the ribs until her chest is numb. And then one day, it escapes from its host in an explosion of blood and fluids, gasping its first breath before going on to live and thrive and generally forget the host that facilitated its life until it needs an advance on its allowance.

But the magic! The miracle! A human inside of another human! A human, who will be born and become an intellectual, thinking, reasoning person, with ideas and thoughts and opinions, whose presence in the world will leave it changed forever, for better or worse.

Even more amazing, we all grew inside the womb of another human. All of us! Me! You! One minute we were nothing, and the next we were human, and regardless of at what point in a pregnancy you believe that happened, it happened inside the body of another human.

Have you ever thought about yourself in that way? Have you ever considered your own mother that way? Not just as the person who cooked and did laundry and told you to clean your room, but as a creature who literally allowed her body to be the incubator so you could eventually become you?

I really don’t have a point to make in this post. I’ve just been musing, as I often do, on the miracle of pregnancy and the alien-like way we make our way into this world, when the rules of time and space are suspended, allowing two living beings to occupy the same space at the same time.

Maybe I’m just giving you a chance to look at things from another perspective.

My dog eats a live bird (musings on animals doing what animals do)

(This originally appeared on my blog at Patheos.com in May 2016.)

Photo by Pixabay

Photo by Pixabay

My dog Bailey was just outside, just hanging out in the grass, enjoying the evening air. She’d been outside maybe ten minutes when I went out to bring her in and saw that she had something pinned to the ground…it was a bird. I called to her, she moved towards me, and the bird jumped away. Bailey went after the bird, pinned it, and let it go. It hopped, she pinned it again. When it flew up about a foot, Bailey leaped up and caught it midair.

And the race was on. I told her to drop the bird, trying not to freak out. The bird was alive, squeaking and flapping its wings. I threw Bailey’s favorite ball in the hope I could distract her long enough to throw the leash on her and get her away, but all she did was run around with the bird, periodically dropping it to yank out feathers and then grabbing it again and taking off, bird bones crunching audibly as she chewed on the run.

My god, the poor bird! I tried to chase Bailey (bad idea). She’d drop the bird, I’d call cheerily and throw the ball again, and she’d start running. I used every attention-getting trick she’d trained with, to no avail, the bird getting smaller and smaller and me getting more and more panicked as the seconds ticked by. Could the bird even be saved now? There was no blood, just feathers flying. Maybe there was still a chance.

Eventually I ran into the house, reached into the fridge, grabbed a handful of mashed potatoes, and ran outside to throw them to the dog. She came running gleefully, but only because she’d already eaten the bird.

THE WHOLE BIRD. The head, the beak, the feet, and most of the feathers. I’d love to tell you what kind of bird it was, but the only thing she didn’t eat were a few feathers and the entrails, which oddly enough were left intact in the grass.

The entire scenario, from the moment I spotted her with the live bird until the time she finally came to me? Maybe two minutes, max. Probably considerably less, although it felt like an eternity.

I called the vet. We’ve just finished more than three weeks of dogs with stomach viruses and diarrhea and antibiotics, and I have no idea what’s going to happen to all of that bird that Bailey just ingested. The vet receptionist told me that dogs usually digest that kind of stuff really well, implying that this was a common thing, dogs eating entire birds. When I asked about the head, the beak, the feet, she simply said, “Yes.” When I pressed her – my dog ate a whole bird – she offered to have the vet call me to reassure me everything would be fine.

Will it be fine? To say that I’m traumatized is an understatement. I watched a bird go from hopping and flapping one minute to feathers and entrails the next, its life taken before my eyes by the animal that I cherish. There wasn’t even any blood; just feathers and that little string of bird guts. My dog did that.

I’m horrified that Bailey didn’t listen to me. She knows these commands cold and I tempted her with her favorite things. She should have listened to me. Then again, I had nothing to offer that could match a live bird. In her mouth.

Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised. A few summers ago, she and Bandit made quick work of the three tiny baby bunnies that had been living in the back yard, bunnies who made the bad choice of hopping around right under the dogs’ noses and flaunting their frailty. It took me weeks to get over the fact that my dogs killed bunnies.

Of course, I understand that this is real life, it’s nature, it’s animals doing what animals do. We have a hawk that often visits our yard; I’ve come outside to find more than one headless sparrow who couldn’t escape the clutches of a bigger, stronger predator.

But at this moment, a few pin feathers still fluttering across the grass, this is too much nature for me. When I came inside after inspecting the yard for any body parts (there were none), Bailey was guzzling down a bowl of water and panting, her tail wagging, she clearly joyful for the hunt and capture she’d just executed. I looked her in the eye and, my voice shaking, whispered, “I can’t believe you just did that.” She stopped wagging and lowered her head a bit, and as our eyes met we both realized that, despite our mutual love and deep emotional connection, she will always be a dog and I a human. She will always eat birds and I will always be traumatized by it.

I reached out to hug her. She nuzzled my neck. I stroked her head and cried.

Bailey is sound asleep at my feet as I write, but I can hear her stomach gurgling, the bird likely making it’s way through her intestines. I’m praying she doesn’t throw up, at least not before darling husband gets home. The last thing I need now is a dog barfing up a bird’s head.

Mama Mia, Don’t Break The Pasta

(This column originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Refreshed Magazine)

(photo December 2015)

(photo December 2015)

Over the holidays I noticed a new product on my grocery store shelf: half-sized spaghetti. It’s basically plain spaghetti, but half the length of regular spaghetti and touted as the “perfect size for any pot” because there’s no need to break it in half.

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, have we become so lazy as Americans that we can’t break our own pasta in half?

I posted that sentiment, along with a photo of the box of spaghetti, on my Facebook page. My intent was to generate discussion about the way we rely on convenience items and technology to do everyday things we really should be doing ourselves. I’m not even talking about things like relying on GPS instead of reading a map. I’m talking about using electric staplers and wearing self-tying sneakers.

The little rant made sense to me, so imagine my surprise when instead of people talking about the laziness of half-sized spaghetti, I was hit with a barrage of replies that all shared the same message: Never break the pasta.

Yes, dear readers, the fact that we’re too lazy to break our own spaghetti is a far less serious offense than the fact that anyone would dare to break spaghetti in the first place.

The debate over pasta size included comments from my friend, Bob, who regularly cooks a variety of delicious-looking Italian dishes for his family and shares the photos on social media.

“Never break the pasta,” he wrote. When I asked why, he replied, “You’re not supposed to break it.”

For the record, I don’t break the pasta; I know not to do that. But why am I not supposed to do that? I asked the question again and again, and dozens of people responded. The conversations went something like this: Continue reading

The strangest dream: the incredible, growing house

photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

One of the (few) things I like about Facebook is that it shows me things that I’ve posted on the same day over the years. It’s interesting to see old photos and status updates.

Today, though, what popped up was a link to a blog post I’d written in 2009, on an old blog, in which I chronicled a dream I’d had a few nights before. I keep a dream journal and often read through it to see if I can decipher messages I’m trying to send to myself. I’m a vivid dreamer and I’m convinced my subconscious talks to me when I sleep.

So when I read the post from seven years ago, I didn’t remember the dream at first. I apparently never wrote it in my journal. But as I read the post it came back . In detail. I could see the rooms, feel the furniture, and I remember the tone of voice people used when they talked to me.

It’s an interesting enough dream to share again. There’s a message in there somewhere, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it comes as the holiday season kicks off. A quick note: I’ve changed or eliminated the names of some people and edited out a few random comments I’d made at the time. But otherwise, here is the dream:

* * * * * * * * * * * *

For some reason, in this dream darling husband David and I had been given a huge, mansion-like house. It had a ground floor, three floors of bedrooms, and then an attic. Cassie, David and I set ourselves up on the third floor, with lovely, huge rooms, big windows, and lots of sunlight and beautiful antique furniture. Continue reading

The election, fear, and an opportunity for change

The flags at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Highland Park, Rochester, NY.

The flags at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Highland Park, Rochester, NY.

A friend sent a text this morning asking how I was feeling about the election. This is what I told her:

“I’m completely fine. I voted third party and felt great about it. I don’t look to Washington to solve problems. I look at the people around me. And I have great faith in my friends, family, and neighbors and their ability to love each other and work together despite their differences. I’m a firm believer that if we did more of that we’d have less divisiveness. But hey, I’m an optimist. What can I say.”

Tuesday was definitely a surprising turn of events in this election season, and while I’m not sure the pundits have sorted out everything the people were saying, my gut tells me it had more to do with making a statement about politics as usual and less about supporting one candidate’s platform.

To be honest, had Bernie Sanders been the Democratic candidate, I have no doubt he’d be preparing to move into the White House right now. Trump was the best shake up available to voters, and I think they took it. A surprise? For many, yes, especially those in Washington and in the media. Does it leave us wondering what comes next? Sure does.

But rather than seeing fear, I see opportunity, a chance for us to reach not just across political aisles but across the street and being to rebuild our nation, one relationship at a time.

We the People.

Let’s start there.

If you don’t have a friend who disagrees with everything you believe, then you need to go find a new friend. And I’m not talking about those faceless “friends” on social media, those vague entities at which you sling anger-filled status updates without accountability. I mean real people you have to interact with face to face, one on one.

It’s a whole hell of a lot harder to be an ass when you’re sitting across the table from someone.

Break bread together. Grab a coffee. And not just once. Carve out time to sit and talk, once a week maybe, just for an hour. Get to know each other. Talk about your families, your jobs, your backgrounds. Talk about the things that you’re passionate about. See where you agree, and focus on that as you really get to know each other. Listen more than you talk. Judge less than you love. I promise you that, in time, you will see America in a whole new light.

Because we are an amazing people – creative, talented, diverse and beautiful. And we each contribute a thread to this tapestry that is our United States.

I know, because reaching out and talking face to face is what I’ve been trying to do over the last ten plus years, after I realized that I’d been living in a bubble and that my views on the world were naive at best, and often simply ignorant. I had to question everything I thought I believed and look myself in the mirror to decide if I liked what I saw. I made changes where necessary.

I know that the people who journeyed with me also had to do the same, and in the end I find myself ridiculously blessed with friends and confidantes across the political and social spectrum. Do we always agree? Nope. But do we respect each other? Yes.

If you’re not willing to take those same steps then I suggest that you are part of the problem.

Don’t be part of the problem. Be the solution.

Don’t allow yourself to remain mired in the political muck that has consumed America for the last months. Whatever side of the divide you were on, get up, dust yourself off, and begin listening to each other instead of yelling at each other.

Turn off the TV news channels, get off social media, and stop reacting to sound bites. Start interacting with people face to face, one on one, and listen to their stories.

Look for places where you can join forces to embrace that which we have in common while respecting our differences. Follow your passion, work towards your goals, and reach a hand across the aisle when necessary. Be willing to compromise.

Ask for forgiveness where you have wronged your fellow man, and offer forgiveness in return.

Focus on being the best You that you can be, and in doing so raise the bar for everyone around you.

Find opportunities to unite our individual strengths to move forward as one nation towards the common goals of liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Like I said, I’m an optimist at heart. But maybe a little optimism is what we need right now.

(PS I just came across this great piece from one of my favorite…I want to say celebrities but he’s really just a regular guy with a big audience… Mike Rowe. He makes some great points worth mulling over – especially “We’ve survived 44 Presidents, and we’ll survive this one too” and “I’m worried because despising our candidates publicly is very different than despising the people who vote for them”.)