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State review: St. Lawrence County Social Services put children at risk

Published: Sep. 17, 2021 at 4:53 PM EDT
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CANTON, New York (WWNY) - Overwhelmed case workers. Children put at risk. That’s the picture of St. Lawrence County Social Services painted in a state review obtained by 7 News.

Foster parents and others have protested about their treatment at the hands of St. Lawrence County social workers. Now, a state report validates many of their concerns.

“People are starting to see that, yes, this is an issue in the county. It’s not just a couple people waving those flags in front of the county building anymore,” said Courtney Fantone, CHILD founder.

Child protective services comes in for the heaviest criticism. Even when children were in “immediate and impending danger,” important case steps were missed. Child advocates say the problems go on.

“The same problems that were occurring last year are still continuing right up until this week,” said Fantone.

The report focuses on last year. It says social workers’ caseloads far exceed state averages. County officials say that’s been taken care of.

“We addressed that by bringing on almost 20 additional people for child protective,” said Joseph Lightfoot, St. Lawrence County legislator.

County officials say the social services department received the report in February, but it got buried. They never knew about it.

A key part of the report is a letter at the end. It’s dated August 13 and deals with the controversial practice of letting social service workers take in foster children.

It points out one had eight foster children – that’s three over the limit.

In all, 34 children cycled through the home. The advocacy group CHILD accuses social workers of profiting off the children. A child with high needs can come with a stipend of more than $2,000 per month.

“I don’t see any motivation other than a financial motivation,” said Fantone.

County officials are now taking a hard look at that practice.

“I don’t think that St. Lawrence County wants to deal with that appearance of impropriety or the appearance of an ethical violation and it needs to be addressed,” said Lightfoot.

The state review demands that county social services undertake an improvement plan. The department will be monitored throughout.

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