Nearly a year and a half after the disturbing murder of Erin Maxwell, Oswego County officials say they're making progress with a comprehensive improvement plan for the Department of Social Services.
Maxwell was strangled at her home in Palermo. Her stepbrother Alan Jones was convicted of the murder. Her parents, Lynn and Lindsey Maxwell were convicted of child endangerment for forcing the 11-year-old to live in a house full of garbage, animals and feces.
After the murder, the community was outraged to learn that Child Protective Services workers had investigated complaints about Erin Maxwell's living conditions three times but did not remove her from the home. After three official investigations, the county came up with a comprehensive improvement plan which includes hiring more caseworkers and changing procedures.
This week, DSS Commissioner Fran Lanigan submitted a progress report to the Oswego County Legislature. Among other things, it points out that on January 13th, child welfare staff took forensic training with the state police, but that two retirements this month has "slowed" some activities toward improvement. Never the less 19 new caseworkers hired in August have begun handling the investigations under supervision. The county expects to meet an eventual goal not to exceed 72 cases a year which is the recommended caseload for child protective workers.
According to County Administrator Phil Church, "this will take about a year at least to get the new hires up to speed where they can handled the full caseload on their own."
Reached by phone, DSS Cmmissioner Fran Lanigan says another problem is slowing progress. She says the number of new complaints of child abuse is "overwhelming and doesn't seem to be slowing down." Lanigan adds, the county has "made great strides" with phase one of a three year improvement plan.