County caseworkers highlight DSS work, common misconceptions

Megan Poole, a caseworker for the past four years, speaks at the special Cortland County Health & Human Services meeting on Monday. (Photo Source: Cortland County).

Cortland County legislators summoned a special meeting Monday to discuss the work done for the county’s Department of Social Services (DSS).

Twenty one DSS workers packed the legislative chambers to discuss the work performed at the department. Commissioner of Social Services Kristen Monroe, who has been with the department for 30 years, said social services are a united front. It combines child protective service efforts, foster care/preventive services, and adult protective services.

“Our main reasons to be here tonight are to be able to increase awareness and understanding of the case work performed at the department, highlight why the work is so important, and how we can start a dialogue about how we can best support employees doing this complicated work,” Monroe said. “No one is in this line of work unless they want to help people, and want to make a positive difference in the community.”

Kristina Petrella, a child protective caseworker who has worked for the county’s DSS for the last year and a half, said she is often reminded of school graduation when she thinks of her work at the department. She said that graduates are often asked what they would like to do to make the world a better place.

“Working at Cortland County DSS is our answer to the question about how we change the world,” she said. “There is no other job in which someone can be a mediator, investigator, advocate, a case manager, and a crisis responder. For many of us this job is a calling.”

The discussion also involved a section where caseworkers dispelled common misconceptions about their work. Megan Poole, who has worked in foster care/preventive services for the past four years and is a law student at Syracuse University, spoke on the complex legal frameworks the department has to navigate. 

“The majority of the families we work with do stay together,” she said. “What we do is subject to scrutiny and that can lead to many misconceptions because our work is highly confidential.”

Poole explained that community input is very important and that the department can only intervene if there is a report made by community members to New York State’s Child Protective Services hotline in Albany. That is then vetted and passed down to county DSS. Poole also noted that, contrary to community perceptions, the department is not incentivized to separate families.

“We do not want to remove children from their homes,” she said. “We do not receive a bonus for removing children. It results in more work and trauma for everyone involved.” 

Poole’s explanation of the legal frameworks the department has to follow according to state and federal law can be heard here at the 17-minute mark.