Essex County child protective services to test new program

ELIZABETHTOWN - The Essex County Office of Child Protective Services hopes to utilize a new program in cases of abuse and neglect - and experts say the new approach is both effective and efficient.

Two representatives from Child Services addressed the Essex County Board of Supervisors May 11 during a meeting of the Human Services Committee.

Cindy Estus, director of services for Social Services, said the Family Assessment Response program, or FAR, aims to avoid situations where a child is removed from a home.

"Removal of children from their families is traumatic and often has long term negative impacts," Estus said. "To make home safe and stable is a far better option."

When child protective legislation was first introduced nearly 50 years ago, its goal was to address only the most serious instances of abuse and neglect. But Estus noted the penalty for parents has always been the same, regardless of the situation.

"The same consequences may be in place for something as little as not ensuring your child was wearing proper winter clothing up to being responsible for the death of a child," she said.

Caseworkers respond to a variety of situations, many of which can be avoided through more communication. Sue Ann Caron, Supervisor of Child Services in Essex County, says FAR serves as a sort of monitoring program. Rather than respond to calls of distress, a child, neighbor or teacher can call early in the cycle of neglect, putting parents and caseworkers in touch from the beginning.

"Better results are achieved when parents are engaged as partners with the child welfare agency," Caron said. "The goal then becomes to assist the families to become a more cohesive and self-sufficient family."

In this scenario, the social worker becomes a facilitator or resource manager, as opposed to being solely an expert and compliance manager.

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