Putting Politics Before Child Protection Dankert-Maurer Must Go By Peter Livingston

I was dismayed yesterday to see Erie County’s Department of Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert-Maurer on television representing the Department of Social Services at the County Legislature. I was hoping to see her resign, but instead she again explained how no one person should be blamed for yet another child dying under her watch.

She also had yet another plan for avoiding future tragedies. Yes - another.

Hopefully, this plan is a sincere and genuine attempt to improve the lives of children. Regardless, new leadership is needed to truly protect our children.

When County Executive Poloncarz took office, he eliminated the Chief of Staff position at Social Services, instead choosing to spend that money where it was assuredly needed more – his office. A year-and-a-half later, he needed more patronage jobs, so he created three more patronage jobs in Social Services, including the previously unnecessary Chief of Staff position. He packaged the patronage jobs with six Civil Service positions to give himself cover. When the Republican, Conservative and Independence members of the Legislature tried to change the patronage positions to Child Protective Workers on the street, the Democrats called the move political. Commissioner Dankert-Maurer told legislators that the number of CPS workers with caseloads over the New York State recommended 15 was only about a dozen and the number was shrinking. The six positions, which were approved unanimously, were more than enough.

That was a little over eight months ago. Today, Dankert-Maurer told a different story. She stated that the average caseload for a CPS worker is 50, well above the New York State maximum recommendation. She found this statistic to be “frightening.”

What I find frightening is that Ms. Dankert-Maurer is still in charge of Erie County’s Social Services. Eight months ago, she denied the need for more CPS workers, even when five of eleven legislators were trying to give them to her. CPS workers weren’t the real concern back then; they were just political cover. Eight months later, Ms. Dankert-Maurer claims that everything has changed. In reality, nothing has.

CPS workers are again being used for cover. This time, County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Dankert-Maurer are asking for twelve more CPS workers. They probably need them, despite their previous assertions of having more than enough. I hope that they get them. I am growing truly sick of reading about children, and disabled adults, being murdered while being served by Erie County.

The most recent case is particularly disturbing. A child was killed on the same day that a CPS worker was supposed to visit. But that worker was not to visit, because he or she had been suspended and no one was reassigned to the case. Not assigning a worker to a case is a management issue, despite adding three managers eight months ago.

Two Erie County Legislators have called for Dankert-Maurer’s resignation while a chorus of individuals have spoken up in her defense. Most of these voices seem to be from agencies receiving funding from Erie County. They all seem to have the same talking points – the commissioner is an accomplished professional, she is great at training staffers and no single person should be blamed for yet another senseless death, the fifth child in the past four years.

I certainly agree with the last point. One person should not be blamed. We can’t blame the caseworker for the latest tragedy - there wasn’t one assigned. Certainly, a supervisor will need to answer some questions. However, the people who need to answer the most questions and accept significant responsibility are Poloncarz and Dankert-Maurer.

Of course, Dankert-Maurer did appear before the legislature to answer questions yesterday. Well, not so much to answer questions than to distract anyone who would listen from the core problems in Social Services. By outlining a plan for more workers and talking about “frightening” numbers, Dankert-Maurer had a shield to deflect difficult questions for which there are no good answers.

Nothing said yesterday changes that Dankert-Maurer should not be trusted with running Erie County’s Department of Social Services. She did not fail to assign a caseworker to the latest tragedy, but the management structure which she created did. She did not personally fail to direct appropriate follow-up, but a person who went through her training program did. She now seems to suggest that tragedies can be averted by adding more workers, even though she said more workers were unnecessary just eight months ago. This is not the kind of leadership that Erie County needs at any level.

Children are dying. These tragedies can no longer be viewed as isolated incidents. More competent and forthcoming management is needed to avoid future tragedies. More caseworkers would be a good start. New leadership at the top would be even better.

Comments? Please email me at peter.r.livingston@gmail.com. I also occasionally comment on Twitter @PRLivingston.

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