Karey Cooper, a social worker who has received praise from her managers for her consistent efforts to help families, could lose her job because she stepped in to help a 7-year-old girl who had reportedly been abused and neglected.
Cooper, who works in Northern Kentucky for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, received multiple pleas for help from the girl’s relatives, who were concerned about her living conditions, so Cooper visited her school in April.
The girl was reportedly hungry and her hair was “like a rat's nest,” according to the report she submitted to Teresa James, the state commissioner of social services.
The girl also told Cooper she was not attending therapy, which was required by a court agreement, and was frequently left alone at home and went hungry, The Courier-Journal reported.
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Cooper was unaware another social worker had closed the file on the girl’s family, concluding they no longer required intervention.
Cooper, who had worked with the child for nearly a year before the case was handed over to someone else, inadvertently violated social services’ policy by visiting the girl. She has since been put on desk duty while her supervisors look into the matter.
After Cooper reported the issue to James on May 19, she learned her supervisors were investigating her records.
"I have never, nor will I ever, lie on my time sheet or travel voucher and to think that someone is digging to try to come up with dirt on me is extremely overwhelming and stressful," Cooper said in a second letter to James on June 4. "I feel like I am being retaliated against for contacting you and a hostile work environment has been created to the point that it is affecting my health."
Cooper told The Courier-Journal: “This was my job — at least I thought it was … Here they've lost track of 92 cases and I'm in trouble because I went to see one kid."
And she is right — Boone County recently revealed it had lost track of 92 of its alleged child abuse and neglect cases for months.
Though Cabinet officials said they couldn’t comment on personnel cases, Cooper’s lawyer, Kelly Wiley, said the possibility of punishment was shocking.
"She was acting to protect a child," Wiley told The Courier-Journal. "If we had more Karey Coopers, we wouldn't have all these missing cases and children at risk.”
Relatives of the girl stand behind Cooper and said they contacted her because the new social worker wouldn’t respond to their complaints, Lexington Herald-Leader reported.
"Karey went above and beyond the call of duty," said one relative who is not being identified to protect the girl’s anonymity. "She was only trying to help a child.”
Cooper asked James to consider the circumstances of the case while her job hangs in the balance.
"I guess my problem is that I went out to help a child when nobody else would and now my job is in jeopardy," she said. "I take my job very seriously and deeply care for the families on my caseload. I would never intentionally harm them.”