Child protective agencies across the country are facing similar issues of being understaffed and overworked. Locally, the grandfather of a little girl who died during an active CPS case, says the agency did not do enough to protect her. In part four of this five part series, we asked local experts what they think needs to be done to fix what some call a CPS crisis.
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Mary Whittier is a social worker who started her career at CPS. Presently, she is the Bivona Child Advocacy Center's executive director. She sees the worst of CPS cases; cases of severe physical and sexual abuse and all child deaths, come through Bivona.
Mary says 3-year-old Brook Stagles' death should sound the alarm in this community.
"Child Protective did not kill Brook. Family members killed Brook," Whittier said. "And people need to keep that in mind. The system did not kill this child. Does the system need to be better? All of our systems need to be better. There's no perfect system."
"We don't need to scapegoat and start firing people," she said. "We need to band together as a community and say we all need to put our kids first."
"If you were going to ID the biggest issue would be poverty," policy analyst Brigit Hurley said.
Hurley has some ideas on how to put kids first. With the Children's Agenda, she looks through state, city and county budgets, highlighting what's in store for children and family programs in our community.
"What we have seen is a tremendous increase in the number of reports of child abuse and maltreatment here in Monroe County," Hurley said. "Right now they're projecting there will be more than 10,000 reports in 2017, that averages to about 27 reports a day."
The nonprofit says yes, first hire more caseworkers and streamline the hiring process, so new workers can come on as quickly as others leave.
However, Hurley says it's also important to fund early prevention programs that can help keep families out of the system to begin with.
"Over 90 percent of those reports are for situations where there's not physical abuse happening, there's not sexual abuse happening," Hurley said. "There's neglect. Neglect could look like a child who doesn't have an adequate coat on a cold day. It could be a child that's absent. What really works to help families move out of poverty is stable employment. What do you need for stable employment? You need stable child care, stable transportation."
Hurley says this isn't simply a county issue. State and federal policies need to help make all that happen and it takes the community to tell lawmakers that this issue is a priority.
"Take action and do something to help provide support, whatever that may mean." Whittier said.
Read the full report from the Children's Agenda below:
In our fifth and final part of this series, we'll show what can happen when the system steps in and makes a difference. We meet a foster family who's helping create a stable and loving home for one little girl who's dream was a chance at a family.