Responding to the near-fatal attack of a child welfare worker last year, state lawmakers have sent a bill to Gov. Chris Christie's desk that would assign police to child protection offices.
"Leah's Law," named for Leah Coleman, a caseworker who was stabbed more than 20 times inside her office in Camden eight months ago by a client, would require members of the Human Services Police Department to work from child welfare offices and accompany workers on potentially dangerous home visits.
The bill (A4638) also would require select rooms in an office to be equipped with panic buttons.
Whether Gov. Chris Christie will sign the measure into law is unclear. Allison Blake, his commissioner for the Department of Children and Families has resisted multiple requests by union leaders to assign Human Services Police Officers to child welfare offices.
The bill addresses the loss of police officers who just days before Coleman's attack had shared office space child welfare employees. Instead, two officers each are dispatched from three state psychiatric hospitals in north, south and central Jersey to respond to child welfare calls.
"The possibility for confrontation always looms, which makes it all the more confusing as to why the administration diverted Human Services police officers in the first place," Assemblywoman Valerie Vanieri Huttle (D-Bergen), who sponsored the bill with Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), said Thursday.
Following Coleman's attack, Blake assigned armed security guards to the local offices and gave them metal-detecting wands. The department also assembled a mandatory public safety training course that teaches workers how to be aware of their surroundings and de-escalate tense situations.
Days after the Christie administration pulled police officers out of all of its child welfare offices, a caseworker was attacked by a client with a knife at her office in Camden today, Camden County police and union representatives confirmed.
Concerns about worker safety were renewed in July after two caseworkers were attacked and injured by a parent during an emergency removal of a child in Pennsville, Salem County. And in October, eight state child welfare offices received calls this week "threatening to shoot up the site or kill everyone in the building."
"Child caseworkers deal with incredibly difficult family situations in the course of their work. Tragically, there have been instances in which employees have faced dangerous circumstances not only at the homes they visit but in the workplace," said Sen. Fred Madden (D-Gloucester), who sponsored the bill with Senate President Stephen Sweeney. "We have to take additional steps to make sure that workers are safe both when they are in the office and in the field.