The New Jersey Department of Children and Families is the state’s Cabinet-level agency dedicated to ensuring the safety, well-being and success of children, youth, families and communities but the work done by its professionals can be hazardous.
Only a few days after the the Republican Christie administration pulled police officers out of all the state’s child welfare offices, Leah R. Coleman, 29, of Camden, one of the agency’s approximately 6,600 employees, was stabbed over 20 times by a deranged client,
The attack that almost cost the state worker her life took place in broad daylight. Coleman was stabbed with a knife in Camden her office at 1:10 p.m. in November 2014, by Taisha Edwards, a 30-year-old city woman who was being monitored by the caseworker.
The incident occurred two days after the departments of Children and Families and Human Services reorganized the Human Services police force and disbanded a unit that assigned police to children welfare offices to save money on overtime.
The Human Services Police did not provide security at the building, but rather accompanied case workers who ventured into unsafe neighborhoods or to talk with potential hostile families they were investigating.
Without security personnel on site, the attack was only stopped when another employee tackled the assailant.
In the year since her attack, there have been more than a dozen threats of bombings and shootings of DCF workers and agency employees have been both threatened, held hostage and physically attacked in the field.
Lawmakers reacted by approving bipartisan legislation that required measures to protect state workers who face predictable perils but Governor Chris Christie vetoed the bill.
“Leah Coleman was stabbed over 20 times by a deranged client, she lost over 50 pints of blood, she nearly lost her life and there was not a single member of law enforcement present in an office with hundreds of workers engaged in some of the most dangerous work in the state,” said Hetty Rosenstein, state area director for Communications Workers of America, the union that represents workers from the Department of Children and Families.
“The Governor has shown a shocking disregard for the safety of these New Jersey heroes, who every day, risk their lives rescuing abused and neglected children and saving families from violence,” said Rosenstein. “This Legislation had overwhelming bipartisan support. We are figuring out the next steps within the next several days, but CWA will never stand down when it comes to the safety of our members.”
Rosenstein also revealed that after Leah’s law was passed by both houses, her union requested a meeting with the Republican governor to try urge him to sign support this desperately needed legislation. “He never responded, just as he has not once responded to any request from CWA to meet in the last 6 years,” she said..
“It is astonishing that the Governor has time to meet with tens of thousands of people in diners in New Hampshire but can’t spare a few minutes to make a call or send a card to one of his own employees injured in the line of duty, or to take a meeting to discuss their safety,” said Rosenstein.
Created in July 2006, the department is devoted exclusively to safeguarding the most vulnerable children and families of our state.
A 1999 lawsuit accused the child welfare system of being so under-financed and poorly managed that it was doing more harm than good for abused and neglected children. The state settled the case in 2003 following the public outcry and national attention drawn by the death of 7-year-old Faheem Williams, who was under state supervision.
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