“When we go into that home, we need to show that family the same respect we ourselves desire,” said Jill Campbell, 41, who has worked as a Child Protective Specialist for the Administration for Children’s Services for almost 11 years. “Because if you walk in there and you’re bombarding them with questions and you’re not listening for key points, you’re going to miss things, and if you miss things, you’re leaving children unsafe.”
The agency is gearing up to celebrate Child Protective Specialist Appreciation Week, which was launched by Commissioner David Hansell last year to honor the work 2,000 CPS staff do to investigate more than 60,000 reports of child abuse or neglect each year. This year’s celebration begins June 3, with a focus on recruitment.
She Looked the Part
Ms. Campbell always knew she wanted to work with children but was initially attracted to nursing. After working as a nurse’s assistant for a year and realizing that career wasn’t for her, her sister advised her to apply to become a CPS.
“ ‘You’re very soft-spoken, you look like you’d work well with families,’ is what she told me,” she said at the agency’s headquarters in lower Manhattan.
For Oswald Pardo, 51, who has been working for ACS for a year and three months, his family’s reaction when he told them he was interested in becoming a CPS was completely different.
“They thought I was crazy,” he said, laughing. “My sister-in-law, who was my biggest supporter, was like, ‘But think of the things you’re going to see!’”
Mr. Pardo, who previously served as a Corpsman in the U.S. Navy from 1986 to the beginning of 1994, and later as head of security for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Election Night event at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, called coming across a poster advertising CPS jobs “serendipitous” because he knew he wanted a city job.
He works as part of the agency’s Emergency Children’s Services unit, which responds to complaints of abuse on nights, weekends and on holidays.
‘Hardest Part of Job’
“The hardest part of my job is ‘what’s going to happen to that family?’ I get that one night to make a difference,” he said.
For Ms. Campbell, who works in one of the ACS borough offices in Brooklyn and was promoted to Supervisor last September, the most difficult part of the job was knowing when a family needed assistance such as access to a food pantry but there were no services available nearby.
Both employees praised the constant training they received, whether it was learning how to interview kids with a disability or lessons on diversity and culture, which was key because black and brown families have a disproportionate number of encounters with the child-welfare system.
But the most important on-the-job tool was to respect and listen to families.
“It’s a partnership. We can’t do it without them,” Mr. Pardo said.
Ms. Campbell shared a story of her visits with one mother who had a mental-health condition. “I’d been going to her home for a whole week and she would not let me in. She would curse at me, and every day I would go back because I needed to see the children. She would carry on, but one Thursday afternoon, she called my supervisor and said, ‘okay, Ms. Campbell can come tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m.,’ ” she said.
Not Fazed by Abuse
When her supervisor asked the woman why she had changed her mind, she explained, “ ‘No matter how much I cursed at her, she just looked at me and smiled.’ ”
“Eventually she just realized I was trying to do my job,” Ms. Campbell said.
ACS has undergone a series of changes after it came under intense scrutiny when two children whose families had previous contact with the agency died in 2016. Six-year-old Zymere Perkins died in September of that year after allegedly being beaten by his mother’s boyfriend. Two months after Zymere’s death, 3-year-old Jaden Jordan died after ACS attempted to visit his home when an anonymous call was made reporting abuse but the provided address was incorrect.
Gladys Carrión stepped down from her role as Commissioner in late 2016 and Mr. Hansell took over two months later, soon after relaunching the ChildStat program, which tracks child-abuse cases.
Ms. Campbell said that such tragedies shake CPS workers to their cores.
‘Hurts Us Just as Much’
“I don’t want anyone to ever think that we don’t feel or care about what happens to children,” she said. “It hurts us as much as it hurts the immediate family because to know that you’re in that home and something happens to that child…You begin second-guessing yourself--‘maybe if I had done this or looked into this, maybe it wouldn’t have happened.’”
She said she hoped the public understood the difficulties of the job, including the fact that many staffers visit homes on their own rather than paired with another employee.
“You never know what you’re going to see on the other side of that door,” Mr. Pardo added.
Still, it’s a job that he said was just as exciting as during his first few days. Ms. Campbell admitted that being a CPS wasn’t for everyone, but was a good match for those who “enjoy seeing people reaching their goals.”
“It’s not a bed of roses, you’re gonna have ups and downs, but it’s very rewarding,” she said.
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