Roman Polanski should be sentenced

Roman Polanski should be sentenced.  Plain and simple. 

Although some countries have attempted to identify Polanski as the “victim,” not to mention Whoopi Goldberg’s outlandish statement that Polanski’s actions with the 13-year-old girl did not constitute “rape rape,” let’s not forget the facts of Polanski’s case, for which he knowingly and voluntarily pled guilty to.  He drugged a 13-year-old girl and had vaginal and anal sex with her, against her will.   And, “against her will” has two meanings here:  1) she told him “no” multiple times and 2) a 13 year old girl under the law now and under the law then does not have the capacity to legally consent to sex with an adult. 

His actions were heinous.  His actions were despicable.  His actions constituted a sex crime.  And the description of his intentional actions against this young girl indicates in no uncertain terms that this was not some sort of aberrant act in the heat of passion and drugs.  Instead, it shows both a course of conduct and a belief by Polanski that he is above the law.

That sentiment of putting his own interest above that of society is underscored by the fact that shortly after he pled guilty to the felony charge, he knowingly skipped town to avoid justice.  It is one thing to argue that the judge in that case was hell bent on sending him to jail for a very long time.  It is a completely different thing for a criminal defendant to take the law into his own hands and leave the country to avoid the prosecution.  That is not how a system based on the rule of law works.  Imagine if every defendant after pleading guilty or being convicted after a trial skipped the country because, well, he or she did not think he would be treated fairly.  That’s why we have an appellate process.  That’s why we have the law.

I am not going to end my post here advocating that Polanski should be shot or sent to jail for the rest of his life like some others out there.  Serious questions need to be raised about why it took so long for Polanski to be reigned in.  To Polanski and others, their sentiment is, “If the crime were so serious to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, why didn’t they come after me sooner?”  

But those questions are completely separate and apart from whether Polanski should be sentenced and formally convicted (you are “convicted” once you are sentenced, not when you plead guilty).  Those are two separate inquiries that his lawyers and the French government are trying to meld together as one.  Put another way, they are saying because it took so long for the D.A.’s office to “get” Polanski, it means that the charges should be dismissed.  Those type of arguments usually carry more weight when the defendant skipped town before a trial.  With a trial, memories of witnesses fade, evidence is lost, etc.  Here, defendant pled guilty and there is no suggestion that his plea was taken unknowingly and involuntarily.  The minutes tell no lie.  It is irrelevant now that the victim of the sex crime has publically forgiven him. 

His actions of flagrantly skipping town negates any mitigating factor that his guilty plea should be vacated.  Hopefully, the Swiss court should use its good judgment in not releasing Polanski pending the extradition hearing.  And, when all is said and done, the LA County District Attorney’s Office should fashion a sentence that is fair and in proportion to the crime he pled guilty to, and not seek a sentence out of vengeance.

Caseworkers for ACS: One of the hardest jobs on the planet

Caseworkers for child welfare agencies across the nation, like New York City’s Administration for Children Services, have one of the hardest and most thankless jobs on the planet:  to fight tirelessly to protect the best interest of a child in an abusive family. images1.jpgDespite the laudable goal of their job, words like “caseworker,” “children services,” or “child protection” brings the typical knee jerk reaction that caseworkers are nothing more than “child stealers” or “incompetent fools.”  Anyone with even half a brain is quick to jump on the caseworker-bashing bandwagon.

After all, watch any television show, like Law & Order, and anyone playing the role of a caseworker from ACS is portrayed as an incompetent idiot.  To be fair, the stereotype is not coming out of left field, particularly when high profile screw-ups, like that of Nixzmary Brown, become national scandal.

Indeed, caseworkers make an easy target, as they are often the most visible representative of a broken child welfare system.  But not all blame should rest on the shoulders of caseworkers for the faults of the child welfare system.  Many caseworkers are tremendously dedicated.  Child welfare agencies, like the Administration for Children’s Services, have made significant improvements in their services. 

But to place blame solely on caseworkers would deflect attention on the more systematic issues of the child welfare system as a whole, from the causes of family breakdown and abuse to administrative issues of running a child welfare agency. 

In the end, caseworkers are dealing with a very sensitive issue that many parents in our population do not have to deal with:  a caseworker with the awesome power of the law coming into their house to investigate claims of abuse and neglect.  Add to that a system where caseworkers have an extraordinarily high caseload and high turnover, and you have, amongst other things, a recipe for serious failure.  These circumstances place children and families at serious risk and calls into question the very legitimacy of the child welfare system. 

Caseworkers need support from the agencies and their city governments that put them out on the front line.  Caseworkers are both the strongest and weakest link of a child welfare agency.  It thus does not make any sense to provide more resources on a top down basis; resources should be directed from the bottom up. 

Support does not stop with a simple “staff appreciation day” or a newsletter about a caseworker’s accomplishments.  Support means providing extensive training so that caseworkers are empowered to handle their cases with the professionalism, compassion and perspective required.  Support means providing enough resources so that a caseworker can focus wholeheartedly on a fewer amount of cases.  Support means providing an environment in which both in theory and in practice prioritizes career longevity and continuity of service as opposed to turnover. 

While a higher salary is not the sole answer to retaining staff, it certainly would not hurt.  For instance, compare how much money those on the 18th Floor on 150 Williams Street are making compared to the caseworkers.  The differences are stark enough to make you question what the real priorities of ACS are.  The question must be asked:  is ACS providing substantive support to its caseworkers or is it just providing lip service?

The commissioner for the Administration for Children’s Services, John B. Mattingly, has started an active campaign to hire more caseworkers.  In theory, this is a good thing, but I hope Mr. Mattingly is not waiting for the magic bullet to solve all problems of staff retention.  It’s going to take more than some posters in the subway and an article in the New York Times.

ACS, as with other child welfare agencies, are dealing firsthand with the issue of what happens when you don’t have caseworker retention.  In the U.S., the average caseworker lasts less than 2 years.  This is simply unacceptable.  In such an environment, you have no institutional memory and, most importantly, no continuity of service.

ACS needs talented and dedicated caseworkers who are committed and invested in serving their community for more than a paltry two years.  If you or someone you know wants to make a real difference, visit ACS’s joblink here.

Wanted: men and women willing to walk into strange buildings in dangerous neighborhoods, be screamed at by unhinged individuals — perhaps in a language you do not understand — and, on occasion, forcibly remove a child from the custody of a parent because the alternative could have tragic consequences.

It is not the easiest sales pitch in the world, but it is the approach the New York City Administration for Children’s Services is taking in its new recruitment drive, meant to attract workers while informing them of just how difficult the job can be. As in other child welfare agencies across the country, the retention of qualified workers is a perennial problem for children’s services. Currently, the average caseworker stays less than two years, and that includes some five months of training.

The agency is beginning a new advertising campaign on Monday featuring actual workers, similar to a campaign by the New York Police Department. The ads, which will be placed in 500 subway cars and will cost the city about $900,000, are meant to instill a sense of pride among the workers and highlight the qualities the agency believes new recruits must have.

For instance, an ad called “Tough” features a photo of a young female worker and the words:
“Our job is to keep children safe. You have to be able to walk into someone’s home and get them to talk to you. You have to cope with unknown and troubling situations, and figure out the truth. It’s all about making the best decision about how to protect a child. It’s tough — but it’s worth it.”

John B. Mattingly, the children’s services commissioner, said that limiting the number of cases assigned to each worker is the key to effectiveness and retaining workers. In 2006, shortly after the death of 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown thrust the agency into the limelight, the number of cases soared, with workers handling, on average, 22 cases each. A caseworker, Mr. Mattingly said, should have to handle no more than 12 ongoing investigations. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has committed to hiring enough people to bring the average caseload down, and workers now average 11.5 cases each.

But the nature of the work itself is grueling, and the new recruitment plan contains a more aggressive screening process. “It is work where the decisions you make can have a powerful effect,” said Mr. Mattingly. “We don’t want people to just check off boxes on a form.”

Recruits will be shown a video that highlights the more difficult aspects of the job. The agency, which conducted a study that found successful caseworkers were able to make decisions when confronted with stressful situations, will incorporate those findings into the interview process, the commissioner said. However, no matter how much screening is done, the reality is that it is profoundly difficult to know how a worker will react the first time he or she is asked to go into a strange home uninvited and break up a family.

“We are giving them a very clear picture of what the job is like,” Mr. Mattingly said.

Quoted article was published by the New York Times and can be found here.