CHARLESTON, W.Va. — New efforts are underway to improve safety for field workers with Child Protective Services in West Virginia.
State DHHR Commissioner of Bureau for Children and Families Nancy Exline explained the projects during a Tuesday morning meeting at the state capitol.
Exline said two pilot projects are underway. The first, being done this month, has provided about 30 CPS field workers with Samsung devices that give them several options.
“It will allow them to Instant Message with their supervisor. It will also allow them to take photographs, video and it will give them some abilities to give an alert to their supervisor if they have a situation,” Exline said.
Following up on reports of child abuse or other situations often put CPS workers in tense situations according to Exline. She said the workers need the best protection available.
A second pilot project, to begin in Nov., will equip some workers with a new security ID badge that will provide direct communication between a field worker and help office.
“They can press a button and it sends them to, sort of like a medical alert or when you have security to your home, someone can listen in and determine if we need to get law enforcement there,” Exline explained.
The bureau is also taking a complete inventory of its cell phones for field workers.
Exline said she hopes to begin making decisions in Dec. about which communication options will be best in which parts of the state.
“Some areas a cell phone may be the best device. Others it may be the security devices, the badges, and others it may be the Samsung devices.”
Exline said the top priority is safety not only for CPS workers but all workers in the Bureau of Children and Families that make home visits.
“I need to be able to protect everyone that goes out into the field,” she told lawmakers.
Del. Gary Howell, R-Mineral, asked Commissioner Exline if she would be against studying the possibility of allowing CPS workers to carry guns.
Exline said that’s not something that should be rushed into.
“I think it’s concerning, myself,” she said. “I think it’s something that needs a great deal of review or consideration before we go down that path.”
House Finance Committee Chair Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said at the very least DHHR workers in the field should be able to carry pepper spray.
“Animals are a real threat. Hitting your beeper or calling somebody on a cell phone or sending somebody a text really isn’t going to do much for you if you have a vicious dog at your heels,” Boggs said.
The DHHR is authorized to have 447 CPS workers but the vacancy rate is usually very high. Exline said it’s currently at 22 percent.