Kentucky Governor Proposes Social Worker Safety Bill

In response to the murder of a child welfare worker last October, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher is supporting legislation that would enhance the safety for state human services workers and add more than 300 social workers to the frontline.

The measure, called the "Boni Frederick Memorial Bill," was named after 67-year-old social worker Boni Frederick, who was stabbed and beaten when she took a 10-month boy for a visit to his mother's house.

"Our human services workers face dangerous situations each and every day," said Gov. Fletcher. "I committed to Boni Frederick's co-workers that we would take steps to provide the protection and tools workers need to keep them safe, and this legislation is a critical part of fulfilling that commitment."

'Panic Buttons' and Supervised Visits

The legislation calls for about $21 million over the next 16 months to equip Kentucky social workers with devices fitted with "panic buttons" and global positioning systems. It also calls for hiring additional front-line staff in the Department for Community-Based Services (DCBS) offices across the state.

The legislation also authorizes neutral, supervised visits between birth parents and children in out-of-home care. The legislation allows the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) - where Frederick worked - to contract with local agencies to provide visitation sites and services.

Other Kentucky lawmakers also supported the measure. Rep. Tom Burch D-Louisville, who is also a sponsor of the bill, said it would help make social work - seen as one of the nation's most dangerous jobs, according to the lawmakers - be safer.

"Our authorization of neutral visitation centers, extra staff and enhanced safety tools will mean significant changes in the way staff can help families," Burch said. "These workers see things and help people in situations most of us could never imagine, and they deserve this support."

CHFS Undersecretary for Children and Family Services Tom Emberton Jr. said he and his staff welcome the legislation.

"Many social services workers have devoted their entire professional lives to the betterment of others," Emberton said. "Our hope is that this bill will address much of the frustration and fear they so often encounter, particularly since Boni Frederick's death."

Access of Criminal Records

The bill gives a security makeover to local DCBS offices by requiring the construction of walls and the addition of buzzer-entry systems to restrict the public's access to staff work areas.

Under the bill, DCBS staff also will have 24-hour access to criminal records. Having background checks at their fingerprints will be crucial for social workers who are scheduled to make potentially dangerous home visits, said Emberton.

Hearings on the bill began Feb.8. If the committee approves the bill, lawmakers expect the Kentucky House Health and Welfare Committee to vote on it as early as next week.

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