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Aja Johnson's killing prompts child welfare scrutiny

Prosecutors say child welfare workers are overworked and underpaid and often don't work well with local law enforcement on child abuse and neglect investigations.
By The Associated Press Modified: September 30, 2010 at 6:38 pm •  Published: September 30, 2010
When we talk about safety of a child, there's a whole group at the table.”

Steele said he's considering legislation for next session that would require more background checks on family members before children are placed in a home, and more sharing of information between child welfare agencies and law enforcement. He said he's also interested in examining what other options DHS explores when family reunification attempts fail.

Among those who testified during Thursday's study before the House Human Services Committee were Trent Baggett, executive coordinator of the state's District Attorneys Council.

Baggett said a problem cited by prosecutors is the high turnover rate and lack of experience among child welfare workers, who he said are often underpaid and overworked.

“There's only so much of that they can stand,” Baggett said. “They burn out pretty quick.”

Richard Smothermon, district attorney for Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties, urged more collaboration between law enforcement and child welfare workers.

“There's a great deal of hesitancy between those two entities,” Smothermon said.

Smothermon prosecuted a Meeker couple for the 2005 child abuse death of 2-year-old Kelsey Smith-Briggs, a case that led to numerous changes in DHS policies regarding child abuse and neglect investigations.