FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 27, 2009
SCHUMER INTRODUCES ERIN'S LAW TO PROTECT CHILDREN FROM ABUSE AND NEGLECT, BILL WILL HELP COUNTIES HIRE MORE PROTECTIVE SERVICE WORKERS TO BETTER RESPOND TO REPORTS OF AT RISK CHILDREN
Schumer Legislation Drafted in Honor of Erin Maxwell Who Died From Child Abuse, Neglect at Age 11
Erin's Law Will Create A DHHS Program to Hire More Well Trained Workers to Respond to Reports of Child Abuse
Schumer: There is Nothing More Important than Protecting Our Children
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that he is introducing legislation, to be known as Erin’s Law, to create a federal program to assist counties like Onondaga and Oswego in hiring more social service caseworkers for the purpose of child protection. The program will work to ensure that communities, particularly smaller, financially strapped counties, will have the resources they need to protect our children from abuse and neglect. Schumer’s legislation was created in the wake of eleven year old Erin Maxwell’s death. She was fatally injured in her home in August of 2008, despite numerous earlier indications that her living situation was dangerous.
Reports published after Erin’s death suggested that Oswego County’s Child Protective Services (CPS) program was significantly understaffed to meet growing caseloads. Schumer’s bill centers on providing needed resources to meet this growing demand. By authorizing the Department of Health and Human Services to award grants to units of local government for hiring more child protective services workers, Schumer’s legislation ensures that local child protection agencies will be better suited to respond to cases of child abuse and neglect. The understaffing experienced by Oswego is unfortunately not at all uncommon. In fact, in the National Study of Child Protective Services Systems and Reform Efforts it was indicated that 75% of children in the US are living in communities that are serviced by case workers with excessive workloads.
“The tragedy of Erin Maxwell’s death revealed the systemic failures of an overextended and underfunded system,” said Schumer. “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.”
When Erin Maxwell was hung in her own room in August of 2008, she was living in unsanitary conditions in a home which was inhabited by over 100 cats and littered with cat feces and garbage. After her death, the home was condemned. Sadly, Erin’s autopsy also revealed that she was a victim of sexual abuse. Erin’s stepbrother was recently convicted of her murder and Erin’s parents were both convicted of child endangerment due to the deplorable living conditions.
Investigations show that between 2003 and 2006, three complaints were issued to CPS which referenced the awful condition that Erin was forced to live in, the terrible odor that emanated from her clothing, and the claim that Erin had been beaten. However after the complaints were investigated, CPS concluded that the issues had been resolved and that none of the problems were impacting Erin negatively enough to remove her from the home.
Investigations into Erin’s death prove that the child’s home life was, in fact, negatively impacting her life. Reports and personal statements indicate that Erin was malnourished, often locked in her room for hours at a time, and sexually abused. School officials told investigators that Erin had been seen taking food from garbage cans and eating it or putting it in her desk.
A June 2009 report examining the root causes of Erin Maxwell’s death, titled “Oswego County Process Review for Child Protective Services,” found, among other things, the number of CPS investigations had increased to the point of seriously undermining CPS workers’ ability to complete thorough investigations. Schumer said this problem stemmed from a critical lack of funding on the local level.
Erin’s case is, unfortunately, not unique. Every day, 5 children in the United States die from abuse and neglect. According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) an estimated 1,760 children died in 2007 from abuse or neglect. This translates to a rate of 2.35 children per 100,000 children in the general population.
Schumer’s bill would help CPS and other municipal and county governments hire more caseworkers through grants to units of local government that reside within states that meet federal standards for data collection, reporting, and review of effective policies as described in the Children’s Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. Additionally, grant recipients must retain a record of all reports of child abuse and neglect. The program will allocate $50 million to hire more caseworkers to protect children.
Since Erin’s death, the Oswego County Department of Social Services has hired additional caseworkers for child protective services. Schumer said that this is a good step, and that a sustained effort will be needed to ensure that CPS is never overwhelmed again. Schumer also said the agency did the right thing after the Erin’s death by hiring more social workers and changing their training procedures.
Schumer added, “No one can dispute that greater access to resources and more caseworkers on the job can help to vastly reduce the risk of another case like Erin Maxwell’s. Erin’s Law would provide grants to hire more caseworkers to enhance child protective services and reduce the risk of another tragic accident.”
Schumer’s legislation has been endorsed by Prevent Child Abuse New York, a statewide, nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect.