OSWEGO, NY – The Child Protection Advisory Council is taking shape.
The county’s health committee recently approved the 16 inaugural members. The full legislature will vote on the resolution later this month.
The group’s membership represents a cross-section of the county of individuals all with significant connections to children.
According to Frances Lanigan, DSS Commissioner, the resolution formally establishes the committee, as well as what its primary duties will be, what kind of membership it will have and other things. It also approves the appointment of the 16 people to the council.
Legislator Jim Karasek said he wanted to know a bit more about the 16 people before he voted on the resolution.
“I don’t know all these people. I don’t think we should be throwing a resolution out there without more information,” he explained.
“I have reviewed all of there qualifications with (County Administrator) Phil (Church) and with Fran and all of these people are well qualified to work on this council,” Barry Leemann, legislature chairman, pointed out.
For the benefit of the committee, the commissioner went over several of the names on the list.
They included Stewart Armell, superintendent of the Sandy Creek Central School District; Marshall Marshall, superintendent of the Pulaski Academy and Central School District; Geri Geitner, director of student support services for the Fulton City School District; Mike Eiffe, Cleveland Elementary School principal (Central Square Central School District); Ann Gilpin, CEO of Oswego Health; Orlo Green, Fulton police chief; and Diane Cooper-Currier, executive director of Oswego County Opportunities.
The various community agencies and stakeholders together will work to improve communications between Child Protective Services and the public, explained Church.
“Do these people have a hands-on role, not just supervisory? For what you’re looking for as a board member, they need to be aware of what the issues are with a hands-on basis,” Karasek said.
“Not necessarily hands-on,” Lanigan replied. “I need them to understand the bigger picture.”
The list of names represents a group of people with different backgrounds from al across the county, Legislator Jack Proud, committee chair, pointed out.
“They encompass a broad spectrum of the county as possible in terms of needs of children,” he said. “One of the points that I insisted upon was that we not just have superintendents. I wanted to have people that were in the trenches. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of covering all the aspects.”
They wanted the group to cover all geographic areas of the county as well as getting the people that were “in the trenches,” Proud said.
“As I see the completed list, I think we succeeded pretty well in getting there,” he added.
“Do you have that hands-on reporting person saying to you, ‘This is a great program, but on a day-to-day implementation basis it doesn’t work very well.’ Do you have somebody on your board that is going to say, ‘Wait a minute, you are talking about this, but real life is this,'” Karasek asked. “My concern is with the schools for the obvious issue of the (Erin) Maxwell case. It was brought up in the schools before it ever became an issue to anyone else.”
The 11-year-old Palermo girl lived in deplorable conditions and went to school hungry and wearing malodorous clothing. Her father and step-mother were each convicted of endangering the welfare of a child and are serving a two-year jail term. Her step-brother was convicted of killing her and is serving a life sentence in state prison.
There are members on the panel that interact with students as well as the rest of the staff on a daily basis, Proud said. Hopefully, this interaction, as well as the rest of the council, will help prevent another tragedy like the Maxwell case, he added.
“It’s not up to just the schools to do something about this. That is why there are so many other agencies involved (on the council),” Legislator Margaret Kastler said. “It has to be not only the schools and the school teachers but it has to be the neighborhood and the police and everyone else. When you see something going on, that’s the time you need to report it.”
This council will have the power to create sub-committees and draw on the expertise of the people in the trenches, Church noted.
“Instead of making a council that is 50 people we have the steering group here. We can’t expect just 16 people to handle everything,” he said. “So we have given them the power to draw upon the expertise of people in various fields and professions around the county.”
“I just don’t want to ever see this lady go through what she went through with the Maxwell thing because some other element didn’t do what they were supposed to do, and it got turned into a blame game kind of thing” Karasek said referring to the intense scrutiny Lanigan came under last year.
“When I looked at the affiliation part of the list, I saw what we want, a cross-section of the county, including educational and everything else,” Kastler said. “I’m sure these people will probably do good. And, if they don’t, we can replace them.”
The council will report directly to the committee, Proud noted.
“We will get a sense as to how things are going and we will have a chance to ask questions,” he said.
“I am not questioning the integrity of anyone on the list,” Karasek said. “I wanted to question the process level to protect DSS and to protect the county.”
Members of the council will serve for three years. They can be removed prior to that by the chair for a variety of reasons.
The other members of the council will include: Jodi Mullen, SUNY Oswego professor (Integrative Counseling Ã¢â‚¬â€œ director); Melanie Trexler, executive director of United Way of Greater Oswego County; Dennis Mullaney, physician; Father John Canarro, Pastor of St. Ann Mother of Mary Church, Mexico; Corte Spencer, retired executive Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Oswego Health; Stacey Austin, Child Advocacy Center Ã¢â‚¬â€œ (interim) director; Jeff Grimshaw, SUNY Oswego Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Business and Community Relations; Melissa Parkhurst, foster parent; and Mary Felasco, attorney.
To report suspected cases of child abuse, call the state hotline (1-800-342-3720).