Our View: Who will protect our children?

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— It's reported a child has been sexually abused by a sibling.

The Moffat County Department of Social Services gets involved.

The caseworker goes to the house. Interviews the victim and the alleged perpetrator. The victim says he does not feel safe at home. The alleged abuser tells the caseworker he will do it again "if given the chance."

The caseworker develops a plan of action. It does not include removing the alleged abuser or victim from the house. Rather, the plan is for the mother to be more watchful.

The child and another sibling are allegedly abused again.

This is not a hypothetical situation. It is real. It happened.

It is one case the Colorado Department of Human Services took issue with in a Jan. 11 report critical of the Moffat County Department of Social Services.

Before the state's review - initiated by concerned residents and agencies - five areas of investigation into the local Social Services branch were identified. All five areas had issues. Ten additional compliance issues were discovered during the review, as well.

The conclusion of the final report (which is identical to the intitial one released other than the dates) states: "CDHS has concluded that MCDSS does not assure child safety. : Additionally, issues exist with the county department's ability to assure child permanency and well-being."

In response, Social Services has put forth - and the state approved - a corrective action plan. It addresses how cases are first handled, more use of the court system, record keeping and communication with the state.

Matt Harris, child welfare supervisor with Moffat County Social Services, said case workers recently returned from safety assessment and safety planning training.

Even with apparent movement forward, questions remain.

Will the training be followed?

How in the world did we get to this spot in the first place?

How do we ensure that Moffat County children in need of Social Services are safe?

It comes down to leadership.

And with the Moffat County Commissioners in charge of the local Social Services agency, they are the ones responsible for ensuring all the right answers come into play.

Let's be clear: The issue here isn't merely a paperwork problem. These are our community's kids, and in small rural communities like Craig, Social Services is not just a protective agency - it is often the first and last line of defense for these children.

We understand that Social Service caseworkers are often overworked and underpaid. Resources are limited.

But that is why leadership is even more important. Caseworkers need to know how to be more effective with their time, as well as ensure the very valuable job of protecting children is done to the highest level.

Even with positive preliminary reports and a state-approved corrective action plan, we will not have a full view of how Social Services responds to these issues until the next full-on review. Is that too late?

Because the other fact is this: According to the Craig Daily Press's online poll, 88 percent of the people who voted as of Friday afternoon stated they do not have confidence in the job Social Services is doing.

Now, this is not a scientific poll (even with the issue of people voting multiple times has been addressed), but even if you change 30 percent of the votes to yes, the public perception still shows no confidence in Social Services.

And perception is reality.

If that perception/reality is going to change, the public has to see the county commissioners more involved. The public needs to know these issues are being addressed.

As one person commented on the Web site, "I will be using my vote in the next election (for county commissioners) to demonstrate my commitment to these kids and families, and I encourage everyone who cares about kids to do the same."

That says it all.

To see the state report, go to craigdailypress.com.

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