Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Boni Bill (finally) passes

Photographs from

On October 16, 2006, social worker Boni Frederick took 10-month-old Saige Terrell to his mother's house in Henderson, Kentucky.

The decision had been made to terminate parental custody and place Saige up for adoption.

Boni didn't know that this visit would end with her death.

Renee Terrell and her boyfriend Christopher Luttrell (pictured above) stabbed Boni and beat her to death. They stole her car and jewelry and kidnapped the child. Saige was found safe and returned to foster care after a three-day manhunt.

The field of social work can be very dangerous:

-According to the National Institute for Social Work, over 75% of social workers have been verbally or physically attacked.

-Half of all human services professionals will experience client violence at some point during their careers.

As a social worker from Glasgow, Kentucky stated, "It's scary knocking on someone's door and not knowing what's on the other side."

The "Boni Bill" was proposed, in the aftermath of Boni Frederick's untimely death, in an effort to address social worker safety.

State Rep. Tom Burch, sponsor of the bill, said it best: "When you get involved with removing children from a home it can get very dangerous. You don't know what your reaction would be if someone came in to take your child away."

The Boni Bill originally included:

1.) Hiring 200 more social workers. Kentucky desperately needs more social workers, because current staff are overworked and under-supervised, with weighty caseloads.

2.) Adding safety equipment, such as panic buttons or a GPS system to track the location of social workers in danger. Social workers have reported that cell-phone coverage isn't available in many rural areas.

3.) Creating secure visitation sites around the state for parents to visit their children in state custody. Neutral locations might include state welfare offices, local health departments and/or churches, as well as building secure visitation centers across the state.

4.) A price tag of up to $20 million. Governor Ernie Fletcher approved of this spending, saying, "I consider this an urgent need."

Obstacles that the Boni Bill faced over the next several months:

1.) MONEY: On February 15, 2007, the House Committee approved the Boni Bill -- with only $4.8 million attached. On March 9, 2007, the Senate passed the Boni Bill -- stripped of all funding.

Without funding, this bill is just a piece of paper. Money is required, in order to hire more workers and create safe visitation centers.

Governor Ernie Fletcher criticized House Democratic Leaders for 'gutting' the Boni Bill, saying, "It took away everything that's important for the safety of social workers and the children they serve."

2.) PROCRASTINATION: The House also wanted to create another task force to study the matter and report back to lawmakers before the 2008 session --- despite the fact that oficials for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services have already worked with lawmakers to develop the original Boni Bill.

As Secretary Mark Birdwhistle stated, "We've already done the research. It's now time for action."

3.) POLITICS: The Kentucky House and Senate became trapped in an impasse over the bill. To fund or not to fund? How much money can be spent on the bill?

An 'untested' idea?
Senate President David Williams opposes visitation centers. He claims that they are an untested idea. He believes that visitation centers will only "create more targets."

Williams should visit The Family Place in Louisville, Kentucky, a visitation center where supervised visits have taken place between parents and children from 1996 to the present date, with no serious incidents.

Rather than visitation centers, Williams advised social workers to request that law enforcement officers accompany them on visits. Will the Cabinet be willing to pay for these officers? Will social workers who refuse to visit homes without an officer run the risk of losing their jobs?

Reason finally won out over politics, as lawmakers pushed the Boni Bill on the last day of the legislative session. The bill passed and is on its way to Gov. Ernie Fletcher to be signed into law.

1.) Instead of $20 million, the measure appropriates $6 million to institute safety procedures, including opening regional visitation centers and hiring additional social workers.

2.) The number of social workers to be hired has dwindled from 200 to 60.

3.) Money was also set aside for other safety measures, such as purchasing two-way radios with panic buttons for all social workers.

The safety of social workers and children shouldn't have a price tag. But in Kentucky, it apparently does...

I just hope that the cost doesn't include another lost life.

To learn more about The Family Place in Louisville, visit:

Jim Holler's presentation, The CPS Worker: Making A Case for Safety, is available through free online trainings offered by the National Children's Advocacy Center for child advocates and investigators.

To register for free online classes, please visit:

Alford, Roger. Bill to protect social workers gains approval. Kentucky Post, March 28, 2007, pg. A13.
Alford, Roger. Lawmakers: Take the danger out of social work. Kentucky Post, Feb. 8, 2007, pg. A14.
Biesk, Joe. Break in session leaves budget items in limbo. Kentucky Post, March 13, 2007, pg. A6.
Bindner-Wooten, Erica. Readers' forum: Safe visitation centers not an experiment. Louisville Courier-Journal, March 14, 2007, pg. A10.
Honeycutt-Spears, Valarie. Adoption bill back on track, sponsor says. Lexington Herald-Leader, Feb. 22, 2007, pg. B3. NASW News, Vol. 49, No. 4.
O'Neill, John V. Tragedies spark worker-safety awareness. Many think client violence 'won't happen here;' Violence or threats of violence are reasonably common for social workers during their careers.
Schreiner, Bruce. Senate reshapes social worker bill. Kentucky Post, March 10, 2007, pg. A6.
Vos, Sarah. Senate oks revision of Boni Bill; Williams says it's improved - others say its gutted. Lexington Herald-Leader, March 10, 2007, pg. B1.
Vos, Sarah. $2.5 million added to Boni bill -Measure doesn't add social workers. Lexington Herald-Leader, Feb. 23, 2007, pg. C3.
Yetter, Deborah. Better safety sought for social workers: Bill would also boost numbersLouisville Courier-Journal, Jan. 27, 2007, pg. A1.
Yetter, Deborah and Stephanie Steitzer. Funds stripped from social-work bill; Senate panelcuts $4.8 million. Louisville Courier-Journal, March 9, 2007, pg. B1.
Yetter, Deborah. Impasse remains on social worker protections. Louisville Courier-Journal. March 13, 2007, pg. B4.
Yetter, Deborah and Stephanie Steitzer. Kentucky General Assembly: Senate passes social worker bill; Critics call it useless after money removed. Louisville Courier-Journal, March 10, 2007, pg. B1.
Yetter, Deborah. Panel restores $2.5 million to aid children, social workers. Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 23, 2007, pg. B5.
Yetter, Deborah. Visitation centers are tied up in impasse; Legislators still hoping to pass social work bill. Louisville Courier-Journal, March 19, 2007, pg. A1.

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