Security increases for NJ child welfare workers explained to legislature
Last November, just days after police officers were removed from New Jersey child welfare offices in a cost-cutting move, a caseworker was stabbed in her Camden office by a client. Following that attack, the state Department of Children and Families took immediate and long-term action.
Testifying before the Assembly Budget Committee on Wednesday, DCF commissioner Allison Blake said armed security was put on site at all four Camden child protection offices after the stabbing. By the following month, armed guards with metal detecting wands were in place at every child protection office.
"We also created an internal work group to review safety training and field safety protocols and practices," Blake said. "The work group made several recommendations, including offering voluntary self-defense courses designed for social workers and providing emergency alert devices."
The state Department of Human Services has assured Blake that its centralized police officer deployment plan will maintain service levels, including accompanying caseworkers in the field or in the office when they meet with people who might pose a threat.
"In addition, this new deployment plan makes Human Services police available for the first time beyond standard business hours to include weekend, holiday and after-hours support," Blake said.
Blake was once a field caseworker who understands concerns about safety, and said she is committed to enhancing it.
Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Mount Laurel) asked Blake about the reassignment of police officers, but she said she had nothing to do with that. Citing an ongoing lawsuit, Blake would not discuss specifics about the Camden stabbing, or the prior decision to remove police from child welfare offices.
"The assault on the child welfare caseworker in Camden was a late wake-up call to the dangers faced by DCF employees on a daily basis," said Singleton in a press release. "The idea that there was no security up until the incident gives me great pause for those who work and deal with a population that is often troubled."
Blake said the DCF does have sufficient staff to meet its current caseload demand.