I grew up and lived in Maine for 35 years. From 2000-2002, I worked for Maine’s Child Death & Serious Injury Review Panel.

Today, I am an academic, a national expert on children who die from abuse or neglect. I have testified before a Congressional commission, published a book and dozens of academic papers, and did a fellowship with the U.S. Senate on this issue.

I have been reading about Maine’s recent child deaths. The report from Casey Family Programs identifies the standard problems in child welfare: poor communication, workforce turnover, partnerships with external agencies, etc. What Casey overlooks is the training of child welfare professionals. My research shows that many workers cannot accurately identify risk factors for an abuse or neglect death – perpetrators, how children die, child, parent, and household risk factors, and the parent-child relationship.

Overwhelmingly, workers want training on this topic and yet workers who receive training don’t fair better than those not trained. Workers who have a child die on their caseloads are not green. They are experienced, mid-career professionals, with appropriate education and training.

The Casey report does not identify how time-after-time child workers miss red-flags, fail to conceptualize the risk to a child’s life, and how focusing on a family’s strengths alone, can leave a child dead. There is no value in finger-pointing. It is our joint responsibility to ensure that child welfare workers, doing one of the hardest jobs anywhere, have the proper training, knowledge, and support to take on this awesome responsibility.

Emily Douglas
Pompton Lakes, N.J.

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