Postcards From Fayette Nam

The first time I heard the expression "Fayette Nam" was in the 1980s, from an Allegheny musician, who dropped
by my kitchen for coffee and conversation. He asked me why I thought his state police pal based in Uniontown
thought of us that way.

Quickly, even though it was an unfamiliar, offensive term, I rattled off a geographic break down for my friend.

In one specific area, we had the mountain stills producing moonshine, pockets of incest births being the common
norm and some homes with grass growing through the livingroom carpet, if they had carpet.

Another area in the county was known to be so racially biased, and gave us the people wearing white sheets and
hoods over their faces, who burned crosses to instill fear during the night. In turn, another area twenty or so
miles away from there, then picked up that hot torch and proudly keeps it burning even today, to keep white as
the required color for residency. Those homes are never listed with realtors for a reason.

Then not far from there, an infamous house of ill repute kept on burning its red light, fiercely competiting with
McKeesport's Brick Alley area, to draw locals and out of towners in for sexual delight. Some of those women
tangled up in it were second, third and fifth generation prostitutes. This all went on, only with vice arrests that
happened once in a blue, blue moon -- and usually only before election day --  probably because town leaders
were so busy running illegal gambling, dog and cock fights and busting drug dealers -- again, usually only close
to election day -- to keep most of the evidence for themselves.  

Down the road a bit, we had the infamous group which gave law abiding motorcycle owners a bad name. Not
the Hells Angels, but wannabes, part of a national group, who ruled from a main street and did as they pleased.
Almost three decades later and nearly disbanded, the remaining stragglers can still pack a wholup of fear to those
in the community with no ties to that group.

And then there were the dismal county-wide statistics carrying over from the 1970s, which placed us high in
poverty, mental retardation, child abuse, infant mortality and chemical addictions. Even when times were more
economically sound, when anyone who wanted a job in the coal mines and mills still could have had one for the
asking, we were becoming thought of as "Fayette Nam" by the troopers assigned here from other counties as
their careers started.

Though some of us were and still are offended by it, we understood that the county's image could not improve
just by slapping a cop who mouthed the words. There was more that we had to do and still have left to do to
shake the image.

Far back in time, Mrs. Willison, a young professor at California State College teaching her course in Child
Welfare, informed the class that this state's child protective service laws started as a result of a horrible case of
child abuse in a Menallen Township home. A little girl was locked for years in what had to be unimaginably close
quarters, in an attic of a small New Salem bungalow, never being allowed to go outside or to school.

At the time, Mrs. Willison told us, there was no law on the books to prosecute the parents. Until the law to
protect children was written and put into place, the young professor told us that the adults in the home were
initially charged under exisiting animal abuse and animal cruelty laws and that child welfare laws were originally
patterned after existing animal laws.

Not that there was meant to be a cruel comparison between children and animals, of course. It was a sad,
necessary call by shocked, repulsed authorities then to make the adults accountable and to start the system that
was to follow to protect children.

Of all the factors helping to keep the title of Fayette Nam over our heads, our bad reputation for spawning more
and more child abuse is the only one that nobody seems to attack realistically. Part of the problem sometimes has
been poor judgment on the part of some management staff. One was always quick to tell callers reporting
concerns -- i.e.,  for instance, an uncle being released from jail for child sexual abuse, going to live with his sister
and her children  --  "that's normal for that family," and took no action to help break a sick family tradition.

That all the children under one roof counted as one case on a caseload was, by far, the most ridiculous complaint
that this writer heard first hand from overwhelmed child protective workers. That's fine for when all children
were all under one roof, but could have also meant two or four or six times the work for "one case" if and when
the children might be scattered in foster care for monitoring.

There just never seemed to be enough staff to go around. In 2009, when this website offered
RANTS to a
particular CYS worker and his supervisor, more mail was sent to us about it than any other local issue discussed.
On first glance, yes, it seems that staff training was needed to better triage calls and listen and not stall for time.

But it doesn't take a genius to realize that intake's attitudes are what they are because they know that there aren't
enough workers to meet the need. Those of us who've heard multiple times that CYS' hands can be tied in some
cases know that law is law to protect parents who actually are not abusing children. Spite cases have to be more
common than we think.

We don't quite understand how county commissioners can keep staff numbers the same, year after year there
and not increase manpower to better monitor families when they seem to prioritize lowly the need for more child
protective workers, yet keep expanding other departments left and right.

And if our county commissioner, who this week vowed to try to change state laws, is successful in his mission,
what then?

It's only common sense that the same number of already overwhelmed child protective service workers will be
even busier. Certainly, their time spent pulling children from homes and testifying in court will increase. Staff
turnover, no doubt, would increase even more, too.

The more staff they have, the more likely someone can be dispatched from intake to check out the caller's
statement. The more staff they have, the more likely they can keep closer tabs on a situation that could go either

And if callers prone to lie or exaggerate by making a false report out of spite, then they need to be prosecuted
just as they would for filing a false police report.

There's no easy fix to a child protective service agency. But keeping staff numbers the same year after year
shows the rest of the state that we're not serious about keeping our children safe. A society is said, after all, to
be judged on how it treats its elderly and young.

There's no action plan in the world that can be developed to improve quality of service without first freeing up
some staff to follow up on intake calls. Since that can't happen, there's no choice but to increase staff to make it

Until Fayette Nam's leaders do just that, we're doomed never to shake the title.

21 Jun 12
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