CAMDEN, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – A monitor appointed to oversee New Jersey’s child-welfare system said Tuesday that the state government’s response to a stabbing of a caseworker could be critical to keep making progress in a system that was previously laden with problems.
The head of a union that represents child welfare workers said the stabbing on Monday came just three days after security officers were redeployed and no longer stationed on the floor of the Camden building where it happened.
“They have eliminated security for the most dangerous job in the state,” said Hetty Rosenstein, the area director for the CWA.
Judith Meltzer, the deputy director of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Social Policy who has been doing regular reports on reforms in New Jersey’s child-welfare system, said Tuesday morning that she was looking into changes that took Department of Human Services police away from the site of the stabbing. But she said it’s clear that caseworkers who are thrust into family dramas need to feel safe.
“There’s certainly a danger when something like this happens given the amount of attention it will get, that it will have a chilling effect on the people willing to do this kind of work,” she said.
Authorities said that the stabbing happened a bit after 1 p.m. in a common area of the building, when 30-year-old Taisha Edwards went after 29-year-old caseworker Leah Coleman with a kitchen knife.
Camden County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Andy McNeil said other workers in the state office held back and subdued the suspect, who was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and weapons offenses. She’s being held on bail of $500,000.
Coleman was in critical but stable condition Tuesday at Cooper University Hospital.
McNeil said he did not know whether Coleman was a caseworker for anyone in Edwards’ family. He also said he did not have details about security in the building.
Public information officers for the state departments of Human Services and Children and Families did not return messages from The Associated Press seeking comment on Tuesday.
But Human Services spokeswoman Nicole Brossoie told NJ.com that police had never been stationed at the office or provide security for the building, but they did frequently work from there before being redeployed last week.
But the CWA’s Rosenstein said they did make the building safer.
A decade ago, security was a major concern for the state agency then known as the Division of Youth and Family Services. After a 2003 legal settlement with advocates for children who claimed that children in foster care through the state were sometimes being harmed more than helped, the state began making officers available to accompany caseworkers on assignments.
Meltzer said the safety of caseworkers has not been a major concern in the last few years, as her reports have found the state making steady improvements in its child welfare system.
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