Tag Archives: Rochester

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.

Related links:

Save

Save

Highland Park, paupers, and bodies in unmarked graves

marked-mt-hope-tour-prosperous-and-penniless-tour-2015-guide-sally-millick-051-2

My scheduled creative cemetery prompt today was a photo of the monument at Mt.Hope Cemetery, marking the place where several hundred graves of paupers, convicts, and the insane were re-interred after their bodies had been found in Highland Park in 1984, when bulldozers uncovered them while landscaping.

I scheduled the creative prompt photos days ago, and set them to post daily so that I don’t have to think about them. That means that my writing plan today was different than the photo – I was all set to write about a local madam. But this morning I decided I wanted to add something more to today’s photo caption, so I set out to find a quick fact – and ended up writing a draft about the institutions where these people lived.

It was a fascinating rabbit trail – and I’ll work on “Tilly’s” story tomorrow. But I thought you might like to see a bit of what I’ve uncovered today. Continue reading

Groundhogs, coffin parts, and other cemetery surprises

One of the handles I found while walking in the cemetery. Nearby, I also found part of a human skull.

One of the coffin handles I found while walking in the cemetery. It had been hauled to the surface by a burrowing groundhog.

I was out recently with my Border collie Bandit when he came upon a groundhog hole. That’s not unusual; the cemetery where I often walk is a certified habitat with the National Wildlife Federation, and is crawling with squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, deer, birds, and foxes. It’s not the first time I’ve had a close encounter with critters while meandering among the dead.

What was unusual this time? Around the entrance to the hole were items the groundhog had hauled to the surface while tunneling. Items like casket handles and knobs, and pieces of rotted coffin wood, and a bone.

You heard me. A bone.

At first, I thought that maybe it was just a wooden ornament from the corner of a casket or maybe part of a statue from a headstone. But it didn’t feel like marble or wood. So I took photos and when I got home shared them with friends, including more than one person in the medical profession, and the consensus was unanimous: it was a human bone. A vertebra, to be precise.

Piled up around one groundhog hole were several coffin handles as well as a human vertebra.

Piled up around one groundhog hole were several coffin handles as well as a human vertebra. (It’s just under the metal handle in the middle of the photo.)

Let me be clear that I didn’t bring the bone home or even disturb the site too much. In fact, after taking photos (because I knew this was going to make a great story and I wanted photos to go with it), I carefully left everything where I found it and went right to the cemetery office to report it.

Turns out that not only are critters a common sight in the cemetery, so are bones. And springtime brings more frequent surprises above ground as the snow melts, the soil softens, and wildlife starts burrowing and nesting and tunneling.

In fact, a few days after this little adventure, I was back at the cemetery with my sister and a friend. I’d enlisted their help looking for a grave as part of research I’m doing for my next book. We stumbled onto another groundhog hole. In his debris pile? Another casket handle and part of a skull.

Another trip to the cemetery office to file another report.

I wanted to know how the cemetery deals respectfully with the remains that critters haul to the surface. Because of the extensive network of groundhog tunnels, there’s no way to know which casket parts, or body parts, come from which plot. And even if you were sure, you can’t just open up Aunt Susan’s grave to return her femur. (When I asked, one worker told me the largest bone someone ever found in the cemetery was a leg bone. A femur is the largest leg bone I can name, but it could just as easily have been a tibia.)

So what happens to the bones?

Cemetery workers fill the groundhog hole with whatever the critter has dug up – casket parts or bones or whatever else they’ve uncovered – and then they fill the hole with dirt. The theory, I assume, is that the groundhog will find another place to live and the spirits of the dead will understand the living have done the best they can under the circumstances.

One staff member explained that it’s a delicate balance between managing wildlife and caring for the remains of others’ loved ones. The cemetery is gorgeous – woods, grassy areas, hills and vales. It’s truly a beautiful place to be buried, and offers almost 200 acres of nature in the middle of the city, a place where you find bikers and joggers and people walking dogs. The living enjoy it as much as the dead, and clearly the animals are thrilled to be there, too.

But when they get to be a problem, when they’re wreaking havoc on graves, for example, traps are set and the critters are humanely relocated to wooded areas outside of the city. But even that’s not always easy to accomplish; walkers in the cemetery often open the traps to let the groundhogs loose. Not only does it thwart the cemetery’s efforts, it puts the human who opened the trap in danger.

Newsflash: Groundhogs bite.

When I walked by the first hole a few days later, it was clear the groundhog had not gotten the memo that this hole was closed for business. He’d burrowed back in and thrown out the casket handles and knobs, settling back into his old digs. The bone wasn’t anywhere in sight, so I assume he decided to get with the program and show some respect for his underground neighbors.

I’m still curious: what does it looks like down that groundhog hole? Has he scavenged any other interesting things, like jewelry? Teeth? Articles of clothing? When he burrows through a coffin, does he set up camp inside or just burrow out the other side and move on with his business? Do the dead mind the disturbance or are they grateful for the company?

And what about those bones, permanently dislocated from their owners? When I was a child, a pastor told our congregation that when our bodies are resurrected they will come together to be made whole before we ascend to the heavens. That made organ donation a dangerous prospect. As a child, I had nightmares about being being called up from the grave in the Rapture, only to have living humans explode as my donated organs were called back to their original home.

The experience with the groundhog and his underground activities only reinforced something I’ve believed for a very long time, that we are not bodies with souls but instead souls with bodies, and that when we shed our mortal homes our spirits journey on while our earthly shells return to the ground, to the elements, to dust. We are one with the earth, and with its creatures, both above and below ground.

My stand up debut at Firehouse Saloon

 

One of the goals that I had for 2015 was to write and perform 5 minutes of stand up material. I’m not sure where I got the notion that this had to be on my proverbial bucket list, but there it was.

Maybe because my humor column often starts out with me musing aloud, and then I write it down and adapt it for the reader. Maybe it’s part of my quest to be Carol Burnett, and I figure learning to stand alone on stage and talk just strengthens every other part of my humor experience. Maybe it’s because I tried and loved improv and need to up my investment, the way people start out using marijuana and end up addicted to heroin.

Whatever the reason, last summer I met with a local comic named Allish that I know from improv, and he walked me through some of this methods for writing jokes. He even convinced me to come and watch an open mic night. It was intimidating but not completely impossible for me to imagine doing it. I never took the extra step to write and perform but I kept thinking about it.

Stand up is different from improv in that with improv, you’re not alone on stage. You have partners and a team who are there to support you. Your job is to work with your partners, and while it’s all off the cuff, you know that you’ve got each other’s backs. There’s no wrong answer, no judgement, all support.

Stand up? While there might be support before and after, you’re on your own on stage, with no one to step in and pick up the ball if you fumble. Continue reading

Notes from the Fringe: Off the Fringe and up, up into the sky

Me, four floors above the city!

Me, four floors above the city!

The great thing about covering events like the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival? I get to meet the most interesting people, and often we stay connected.

And that’s how I found myself high above the streets of Rochester yesterday, in a construction bucket on the side of the Powers Building.

I met artist Scott Grove and his wife Nancy last week at the festival opening; Scott did some of the pieces in the Spiegelgarden. We got to talking about the myriad talents Scott has, one of which is historic restoration for old buildings. He’s currently working on the Powers Building, and he invited me to check it out.

So I did.

This won’t be a post about the history of the Powers Building – I can do more of that later. Today, I just want to give you a quick peek at my adventure, how Scott cares for the historical integrity of the building, and some of the little treasures I found that beg more investigation for another day. Continue reading

A musing on the To Kill A Mockingbird read-a-thon

BN To Kill A Mockingbird Readathon roster

Pittsford, NY Barnes & Noble roster for the “To Kill A Mockingbird” read-a-thon.

This will be a quick post, informal and to the point. I hope. Often I have great ideas and because I want to be profound I put off writing and then lose the idea and never write it down.

And I don’t want to do this with what’s running through my mind.

So if it feels like maybe I’m rambling or am not making my point, or if you see typos or mistakes or places where maybe you think I haven’t thought through an idea, keep in mind that I’ve got just a few minutes between places I need to be this afternoon, and I’m writing this in between where I just was and where I’m going.

I got to take part today in Barnes & Nobles “To Kill A Mockingbird” Read-a-thon, to celebrate the release tomorrow of Harper Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman”. The readings started at 9 am this morning and end at 9 pm tonight, with guest readers taking half hour time slots to read the entire book from cover to cover. It’s a nationwide event, and I was at the Pittsford Barnes & Noble.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” is one of my favorite movies, not only because it’s so brilliantly done, but because it so brilliantly follows Lee’s book. (It’s pure joy when a movie does justice to a book, isn’t it? And it so rarely happens.) We could talk all day about characters and setting and story, but for now it’s enough to say that when I got to B&N,  I got sit and listen to chapters 17, 18 and 19, read by Judy Shomper, chair of the theater department at Brighton High School and Beth Adams, morning show host on WXXI.

BN To Kill A Mockingbird Readathon Judy Shomper

Judy Shomper, chair of the theater department at Brighton High School, reading from “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

As I came into the store, I could hear the sound of the reader echoing throughout the entire store, although I wasn’t actually listening to the words. But after I’d checked in, said hello to Beth and chatted for a minute, I settled in to listen to Judy Shomper and then Beth Adams read from the famous courtroom scene. You know what I’m talking about: Atticus is questioning Mayella Ewell about her beating and the accusation that it was at the hands of Tom Robinson, a Negro.

The word “nigger” is used throughout the text. Continue reading

My Mystery Theater debut

The cast of the Mystery Company, aboard the Grand Lady of the Niagara.

The cast of the Mystery Company, aboard the Grand Lady of the Niagara. (L to R: Don Beechner; Matt Vimislick; me; Liz Cameron; Gregory Nunn; Erin Moriarity; Chris Garver)

Last Saturday, June 6, I made my debut doing a totally scripted play (as in, I had to learn lines vs. improvising on stage) with the Mystery Company of Rochester. I played a feisty Russian chef named Madame Voldan. The performance was aboard the Grand Lady, which did a dinner cruise on the Niagara River. Was I nervous? You bet. Not only was I afraid I’d mess up my lines, I was also concerned about the safety of cruising on a river that eventually empties over Niagara Falls. And also possibly getting seasick. Turns out I flubbed some lines (phew! I don’t think anyone noticed), we didn’t get anywhere near the Falls, (double phew!) and while I was wobbly on my feet I didn’t feel seasick once (triple phew!). All in all, it was tons of fun, and I had a blast with the cast and the people on the cruise!