CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although Child Protective Services workers often find themselves in tense, stressful situations, a recent audit found the state Department of Health and Human Resources and its Bureau for Children and Families lacks adequate policies and protections for those workers.
The West Virginia Legislative Auditor's Office released its report on West Virginia's Child Protective Services in August, finding high turnover rates among both social workers and trainees and a lack of "urgency" at the agency for conducting timely investigations of child abuse allegations.
Gail Higgins, an analyst with auditor's office, returned to the Legislature on Tuesday to talk about another issue uncovered in the audit, the "fragmented" and "inadequate" safety policies for CPS workers.
Auditors reviewed DHHR and Bureau for Children and Family policies and interviewed Child Protective Services workers, uncovering numerous safety concerns.
Higgins told lawmakers safety policies existed to protect workers while in the office, but those performing field work have "limited resources and no defined safety protocols."
"CPS workers have few protections when they leave the office," she said. Higgins said CPS work requires social workers meet clients in their homes, at all hours, seven days a week, to investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect.
Workers never know if the people they're visiting will be intoxicated, violent or mentally ill, creating an "unpredictable and often unsafe" work environment, she said.
Workers are not allowed to carry any kind of defense weapon, such as pepper spray or a taser, and receive only limited self-defense training (usually focused on common sense behaviors, like understanding a client's view of authority figures).
Auditors also noted CPS workers do not uniformly use cellphones while on the job.
The agency does not provide phones to all workers, and allows each worker to decide whether or not they want to use state-issued cellphones. Others use their personal phones to store client information, take photos and communicate with clients.