CPS workers struggle to protect innocent children
The death of a Greece toddler is bringing new scrutiny to Monroe County's Child Protective Services agency. Some are calling it a department in crisis, concerned that case workers are overwhelmed and overworked.
We first met John Geer in November, days after his granddaughter, Brook Stagles died from severe abuse.
He held her ashes as he shared her story. He said that her body was beaten so badly that doctors at a local emergency room asked if she was hit by a car.
Geer said he and family members repeatedly called child protective services, telling them Brook was being abused and needed to get out of the home she was living in. Those calls, he said, went unanswered.
"CPS truly let us down," Geer said. "When it said child protective services, there was none of that."
Months later, he maintains CPS did not do their job.
"My granddaughter is dead, and I blame them," Geer continued. "I want to help them."
Geer believes that case workers are so overwhelmed with their caseloads that some children, like Brook, slip through the cracks.
"They cannot help everybody, they just cannot," Geer added.
John Rabish was a CPS worker for 27 years. He said the job was emotionally exhausting and that he joined the Federation of Social Workers to instill change. He is now an executive board member.
"At the end of the day, you are really concerned, 'Is there something I could have done to make it less likely this child would have suffered,'" Rabish told 13WHAM News.
He said CPS is in crisis in Monroe County, and the county is not giving specifics or a timeline for how they will address concerns. He said County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo ran a campaign based on transparency, and has not lived up to her word.
"The county's failure to adequately staff child protective services has created a situation where the most vulnerable children in the community are being placed at risk," Rabish claims.
He claims case workers in Monroe County are handling more than twice as many cases as the Child Welfare League of America recommends - a number the county does not dispute.
"They determined that 12 is the maximum number of cases a CPS investigator can handle at any one time," Rabish said.
However, data shows some case workers handling 30, 40, 50, or even 60-plus cases. Only nine workers have been assigned between 10 and 20 cases.
"A case does not involve one child," Rabish said. "A case more often than not involves multiple children. A caseworker is responsible for each child named in the report or living in the household, and an exhaustive investigation has to be done regarding safety and risk in the lives of each child."
Despite the numbers, the Commissioner of Human Services in Monroe County said she believes CPS is in good standing.
"I do not think we can make the assumption that every single case that our caseworkers work with are extraordinarily complicated," Corinda Crossdale said in an interview with 13WHAM News.
Her reaction to the average number of cases being nearly triple what experts recommend?
"I do not think that there is a gold standard," Crossdale continued. "These are very resilient, very capable caseworkers."
Geer believes the county is in denial and asking workers to do the impossible. He is now putting up billboards across the country and paying for radio ads to bring attention to his concerns
"The county administration is saying that they are smarter than the experts!" Geer exclaimed. "There is always a new shock everyday - of something that I am learning these workers are going through on a daily basis."
He said Brook would be alive if CPS had the resources to support their workers.
"She was going to be a doctor," Geer said tearfully. "She was going to go to Disney Land."
The father of Brook, Michael Stagles and his girlfriend, Erica Bell have both been charged in connection to her death. The Office of Children and Family Services is also investigating Brook's death. Stagles and Bell remain in jail and are getting ready to stand trial in March.