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Amy Neuman: Priority is ensuring safety of kids

I have been a social worker with the Kansas Department for Children and Families for more than 20 years and have seen many cases with both happy and unfortunate endings. I speak for the hundreds of social workers who come to their jobs every day and take on the difficult, heartbreaking but often rewarding challenges when I say that we do our very best at all times to protect children.

The Eagle’s Dec. 21 editorial criticized our work, citing tragic examples of how, despite our best efforts, children were put in harm’s way.

It cannot be said enough: Our No. 1 priority as social workers is to ensure the safety and well-being of children. In order to carry out this task, our agency must walk the fine line between preserving the rights of parents and intervening on behalf of a child, should the situation warrant. When DCF receives a concern, social workers visit the child and family to gather information and complete a family-based assessment.

Our department is fortunate to have social workers who are child-welfare experts. They are trained to investigate child abuse and neglect, as well as collaborate with families to identify needed services. Families in crisis face many difficult circumstances, including substance use in some cases, and may struggle to fully appreciate the responsibilities that come with caring for children, our most vulnerable population. In many cases, the family voluntarily participates in community services, and the conditions for the children are improved.

Unfortunately, a large number of success stories can easily be overshadowed by the tragic cases, such as the recent child death in Wellington. I will be the first to say that we at DCF are deeply saddened by the tragedy of child abuse, child neglect and the loss of life. No child should have to endure such circumstances.

Social workers – who have chosen their profession for the purpose of protecting children – are greatly affected by child deaths, whether it was their own case or not. We grieve the loss of children in our community with our neighbors, colleagues and friends. Unfortunately, despite our very best efforts, we cannot predict the future or people’s choices. Our goal is to keep all children safe. It is also our goal to keep families intact, when that is a safe option.

Please know that social workers investigate and witness unthinkable circumstances that most people would rather not know exist. This is not an easy job, but our motivation doesn’t change. We always want to serve the best interest of children who need protection.

Amy Neuman of El Dorado is assessment and prevention administrator of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, Wichita region.

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