Spotting Signs of Troubled Homes

If neighbors or police are worried about kids' safety, different agencies will often be called to visit the home. One organization learns to spot signs of neglect.

While last month's video of a swearing two-year-old boy in a diaper talking about gang life in Omaha disturbed many, the state said that alone was not the reason for removing the children.

After several chances, investigators decided that the child's 19-year-old aunt wasn't cut out for watching so many children.

Project Harmony’s Executive Director Gene Klein said, “In hindsight, it's a lot easier to say that was an unsafe home. But many times it's not that black and white."

Klein won't talk about specific cases but highlights an on-site training ground to help cut to the chase. When children are in crisis a rotating set becomes a real life tool in getting to the bottom of it.

A look around reveals some obvious things like drug paraphernalia on the floor, paint thinner, plumbing problems and bug problems. It’s a re-creation of what many would see as just plain filth.

But appearances can often be fixed once someone is made aware. That's why Project Harmony recreates the conflict and emotions often encountered in home visits so workers can more accurately assess neglect - from Child Protective Services to the Visiting Nurse Association; from Salvation Army to the Boys and Girls Club.

Klein said, "Some may say it looks like my teenager's bedroom and others might say, 'gosh, how can anyone live in an environment like this with small children.'"

Employees will go through scenarios designed to go beyond appearances because it's not always about taking away children. The goal is often about what can be done using available programs to make the situation better and safer.

The program is called Home Visits 101. Actors involved tailor it to specific concerns.

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