"Two of our family service specialists were assaulted today in Pennsville, Salem County. We do not yet have all the facts but the incident occurred outdoors as our colleagues were leaving a family's residence," Children and Families Commissioner Allison Blake announced in a department-wide email just before 5 p.m. Tuesday. "We've told the alleged assailant is in police custody."
"At this moment we're thinking about our colleagues and their families. Both have been released from the hospital and we extend wishes to both for their quick and full recoveries," according to Blake's email, which was obtained NJ Advance Media. "We are providing trauma support services at our Salem local offices for employees who need assistance."
The employees from the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly the Division of Youth and Family Services) were taking a child into the state's custody, said Hetty Rosenstein, state area director for the Communications Workers of America. Rosenstein did not immediately have the names of the injured staff members.
The spokesman for the Division of Child Protection and Permanency did not return requests for comment late Tuesday.
The assault reopened a rift between the union and the Christie administration over the security of child welfare employees who work in the field. In November, a caseworker was repeatedly stabbed and severely injured by a client who attacked her inside her office in Camden.
Days before the attack, members of the Human Services Police Department who accompanied child welfare employees to potentially dangerous neighborhoods were re-assigned to work from one of three state psychiatric hospitals, where they would be dispatched in the event caseworkers needed back-up.
Blake assigned armed security guards to the local offices, but the police officers have not returned.
"This was exactly the purpose of the Human Services police. These workers could have been killed. No worker should be going out on a removal without a licensed police officer who has been specifically trained in child protective services," Rosenstein said.
The caseworkers did not request an officer to accompany them to the home, Rosenstein said.
Rosenstein said legislators support returning police officers to the local child welfare offices, and have sponsored "Leah's Law," named after Leah Coleman, the employee who was attacked in Camden.
"We need the Human Services Police back in DYFS offices available to support the critical and dangerous jobs our members do in protecting children," she said.
Pennsville Police could not immediately be reached for comment.