By Christy Lawton
The tipping point in Alaska came this past winter following a number of perilous situations that presented serious danger to our workers. This particularly striking string of events was part of a larger accumulation — occurring with ever-increasing frequency — of similar unsafe events statewide. We were lucky; none ended in tragedy this time. However, reliance on luck is not the way we wish to operate.
Concern about the safety of child protection workforce is not new; it has been a concern for years in Alaska and across the United States. The child protection workforce serves the public in a unique and often unrecognized manner. Public safety entities are easily identifiable by their uniforms or badges and it is commonly understood that they face many inherent dangers as a part of their job. Child protection workers often face the same challenges and danger as part of their service to the public, but too often are not viewed in the same light. This equates to less public knowledge and attention to their safety.
Child maltreatment is a pervasive and growing problem, and it remains an issue the public often would prefer not to discuss or know the details about, as it is such an emotional and painful topic. The reality that our most vulnerable residents are being abused cannot be tolerated. The same degree of intolerance should be equally applicable to acts or threats of violence toward those charged with ensuring safe children, strong families.
The OCS/DHSS leadership will do everything within reason to become proactive, provide the training and tools most necessary and relevant to staff, and to become an organization that is “state of the art” in worker safety. Ideally, doing so proactively will help to prevent or at least reduce the risk of having even one employee being injured or killed in the line of duty when it could have been prevented.