Washoe County Approves 11 New Child Welfare Workers

Washoe County commissioners have approved funding to hire 11 new social workers to meet recommendations by a national panel to reduce incidents of child deaths because of abuse or neglect.

A panel assembled in December by the National Center for Child Death Review looked at 34 of the worst child death cases in Washoe County from 2001 to 2004.

Though local officials took exception to some of the findings on specific cases, they said they will work toward implementing the recommendations.

The positions are to be added immediately at a cost of $336,000 through July 1. To help fund the extra workers, the state has boosted the county's grant for needy families by $1.3 million this year.

While the vote was unanimous, Commissioner Jim Galloway warned
the level of work on child abuse and neglect cases and support for
foster families could decline if the state financial aid ends.

He also worried that intense scrutiny could drive away potential foster parents, described as the backbone of the county's child welfare system.

Because of the close relationship between county Social Services and foster parents willing to care for terminally ill children, for instance, the national panel recommended an outside agency be required to oversee death investigations.

Local officials said some of the concerns raised in the report will be resolved July 1 when Dr. Ellen Clark, a pathologist, becomes the county medical examiner.

Retiring Coroner Vernon McCarty, who is not a doctor, recommended the change before the panel convened.

Social Services Director Mike Capello said of the new hires, two social workers and an intake worker will allow the agency to expand operations to 24 hours a day.

The agency also will review a broader range of factors when screening for neglect and abuse cases, Capello said, such as children who are seriously ill before they are taken to a hospital.

Another social worker will work to provide a better match for a child with medical, mental health or other special needs so the child stays longer in the same foster home.

Four others will work with new foster parents to get them licensed and provide ongoing support and monitoring, officials said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)