OSWEGO, NY – Something positive may soon rise from the Erin Maxwell tragedy.
Today (Oct. 26), Sen. Charles Schumer said he will introduce legislation in the US Senate aimed at creating a federal program to assist areas such as Oswego County in hiring additional social service workers for child protection.
Speaking at the Port of Oswego Authority, where he accompanied 23rd Congressional (Democratic) candidate Bill Owens on a tour, the senator explained the legislation is inspired by Erin Maxwell.
The 11-year-old was murdered by her step-brother in their Palermo home last August. He was convicted of second-degree murder and is facing a 25-year to life sentence in prison.
Her father and step-mother were convicted on several counts of endangering the welfare of a child and both were sentenced earlier this month to two years on jail.
“We all know about the horrible, horrible murder. Three times there were complaints how (Erin) might have been treated. She had an odor about her; she was going through garbage cans and looking for food,” Schumer said.
The Oswego County Department of Social Services did what they could do, he pointed out.
“There weren’t enough people there. They had a whole lot of complaints and this wasn’t checked out. I don’t blame the people there,” he said. “The caseworkers just have too much to handle, and it’s not just in this county.”
The legislation will enable smaller communities to be able to have the needed resources to hire child protection workers.
Funding would be through the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Very simply, what Erin’s Law would do is would have the federal government, on a grant basis, provide dollars so that there could be more people in the department of child protective services in the counties.”
More resources need to be provided to prevent social workers from being overwhelmed by the numbers of cases requiring their attention, Schumer said.
In Oswego County, they “have beefed up” the department’s staff recently, he said.
“This is a good step,” Schumer said, adding that “a sustained effort will be needed to ensure that CPS is never overwhelmed again.”
“But, this kind of problem is happening throughout Central New York and throughout our country,” he continued. “We need to address this problem and prevent further tragedies. The understaffing experienced by Oswego County’s DSS unfortunately isn’t uncommon. The National Study of Child Protective Services Systems and Reform Efforts claims that 75 percent of children in the US are living in communities that are serviced by case workers with excessive workloads.”
At a time when the economy isn’t that good, the number of (suspected child abuse) cases goes up, the senator pointed out
“The taxpayer funding that can be used to hire people to check on these kids goes down,” he said. “So, there is a real need for federal help and that’s what we are attempting to do with Erin’s Law.”
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The tragedy of Erin MaxwellÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s death revealed the systemic failures of an overextended and underfunded system,Ã¢â‚¬Â Schumer said in a press statement. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is nothing more important than protecting our children and my bill will go a long way in ensuring that there are enough well trained protective service caseworkers out there to better respond to cases of abuse to minimize the chances that tragedies like this will happen again.Ã¢â‚¬Â
SchumerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s measure, to be introduced in Congress as a bill, would require agencies to keep records of all abuse claims and bring the matter to police when two complaints have been made in a six-month period.
Agencies will have to conduct monthly visits and create a long-term plan for working with community, private and public agencies.