Inside child services: Protecting the vulnerable

RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Every day, Mary Cabales sees the worst of the worst when it comes to child abuse and neglect cases in our area.

"I've cried many many times in this field," she said. "When you know that something is happening and something is wrong, but you're not able to pinpoint that, it's hard to sleep at night. And that is when the tears come."

Cabales deals with sexual and physical abuse cases. She says she tries to stay neutral when working a case, but at times that can be difficult.

"There are things that are accidental," she said. "I want to believe that no parent wants to harm their child. But there's been moments where it's really hard to put a face on and be professional. You're just shocked that people do these things. But I have to remind myself why I do this."

That job is to protect the innocent.

"It's really sad because they are very vulnerable, they're very innocent. They didn't do this to themselves but yet they are in this situation. I think that makes me work harder, because I'm their voice. I'm their advocate."

But social workers aren't always seen in a positive light.

"I think often times we're seen as overly aggressive where we go in and bombastically remove kids and other times we're seen as not doing enough," Kristen Monibi, Intake Supervisor for Child Services said.

"We are intruding in their lives and in the more egregious situations we are taking away their children, so absolutely I could see why they have that opinion about us."

Washoe County Child Services averages 605 reports of child abuse and neglect a month. Of those, 169 turn into investigations. But actually removing a child from the home happens frequently, but not as often as people think. Cabales says removal is always her last resort.

"We do think on our feet most of the time," she said. "The decisions we make are in that moment with the information we have. So the decisions I make, I don't take lightly."

WCDSS averages 64 removals per month. But many of those children are place with immediate family members.

"We're going to do everything we can to keep that child connected to their family rather than going to shelter care," Monibi said. "Children want to be with their parents. Even in homes that are chaotic. We don't expect perfect parents. We want safe parents."

Monibi says the investigations range all socioeconomic classes, though it may seem like lower income areas receive more reports.

"Poverty is not abuse," Monibi said. "I think they are more visible in the community due to their proximity to where they live and so they are more prone to get reports."

But Monibi says one thing does span all classes, and that is the role social media is playing in bringing these cases to light.

"Kids are reaching out," she said. "They're posting on Facebook. They're reaching out on social media about their lives, and a lot of calls are coming by way of that."