Update: Since POST published its story on dangerously high caseloads at Monroe County Child Protective Services, a bill designed to cap those caseloads has gained at least one Republican supporter to make it a bi-partisan bill. Monroe County Legislator Tony Micciche, representing the 26th Legislative District (which includes portions of the Towns of Gates, Greece and the City of Rochester), has since stepped up to co-sponsor the bill with Justin Wilcox, a Democrat legislator representing the 14th district (Brighton). Wilcox informally introduced the Brook Stagles Child Protective Services Reform Act this spring in reaction to the little girl's beating and subsequent death last November. The bill already has full Democrat support, giving the bill 10 of a total 29 votes. It needs at least five more legislators to see it succeed. While many have been doubtful Wilcox can corral that Republican support, the addition of Micciche now brings that number down to four.
Kendra White’s bruises were still visible in July from an injury in January, when she got pinned against a kitchen table as a fight broke out during a scheduled home visit. As a caseworker at Monroe County Child Protective Services, White was interviewing a pregnant mother who had been pushed down a flight of stairs the previous week, when the father of her unborn child showed up. He had just been released from police custody and was looking for his car. He entered the house mad as hell.
“He appeared in the kitchen. I said (to the pregnant woman), ‘Who is this?’” White recalls. “She said, “That’s him!” I told him: ‘You’re not supposed to be here. I’m calling the police. I’m with CPS, and I know there’s an order of protection against you.’”
“He was aggressive. His body language seemed like he was about to punch her. He was small, but he was irrational and irate, and the report she had made against him stated that he had a gun,” White says. The woman’s children had multiple fathers, one of whom, at the time of White’s visit, was at the house in another room. He emerged in a rage, and the two began to fight.
“Suddenly, the other kids’ father comes out and hits him in the head,” White recalls. “They start fighting all over the kitchen, they fall into me, and I get pinned against the table. She (the mother) falls on the floor. She’s pregnant,” White says. “I had to get out from under them and get all of the kids out of the house to call the police.”
When the police got there, White says they told her: “‘I don’t know how you guys go out by yourselves anyway. When we go out, we have guns and partners. You guys go to the same houses we do with nothing but a clipboard.’ ‘Absolutely!’ I said, ‘I do the same job you guys do, but without a badge or protection.’”
In the end, the man was released.
“They found him not guilty of harassment because he didn’t know who I was, and he didn’t intend to hurt me, but he violated his order of protection,” White says. “He wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place, so in my view he was responsible for what happened there. But what does the county do to help me? Nothing. Did I have any support? Did anyone come to any court interventions; did anyone do anything on my behalf? No!”
A current CPS supervisor who spoke to POST under the condition of anonymity says the scariest cases often include domestic violence.
“Those are the most dangerous situations, where probation officers and child support officers don’t go out alone, but we have to all the time,” the supervisor says. “Some of that danger could be mitigated if we had a full staff. Then we could afford to send two people out. You would have more ability to plan safely.”
White remembers another case during her time at CPS when a father, in a fit of rage, broke a caseworker’s arm by slamming it in a car door. Other caseworkers harbor emotional trauma from the cases they investigate, the abuse and neglect they witness.
A high staffing turnover is making an already difficult job for CPS workers even harder. Caseworkers need experience to enter dangerous situations, but many workers quit CPS before they get the experience necessary to ensure safety for themselves and the children they are trying to protect.
The CPS supervisor says, “We do what we do because we love it. It’s an unusual job that you do learn skills. There is a degree of drama and excitement to it, but you’ve got to keep someone long enough so that they learn and they know when to call 911; they know when to get out; they know how to identify danger and risk to kids; they know how to call for backup. If you have this turnover in staff, it becomes more dangerous because you have people going out who don’t have the experience and find themselves in situations where children are in danger.”
“When she decided to leave this year, she was up to 66 cases—five times the limit deemed acceptable for caseworkers to do their job.”
White’s injury happened five months before she resigned from CPS, where she had been a caseworker for four years. During that time she saw caseloads at the agency skyrocket. When she decided to leave this year, she was up to 66 cases—five times the limit deemed acceptable for caseworkers to do their job.
The Child Welfare League of America, for example, sets a maximum of 12 active cases a month for case workers investigating allegations of abuse and neglect, while workers responsible for ongoing in-home protective services cases should carry no more than 15 to 17 cases at a time. A report released early this year by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) showed that 40 percent of caseworkers at Monroe County CPS had more than 15 ongoing investigations, making it the 40th worst county in the state for high caseloads.
Two years ago, when White saw her caseload shoot up to 60, she couldn’t believe it.
“I remember being in training and having 10 cases and thinking it was absolutely impossible to have even five more cases. And then I got to 20 and I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ But then when I got to 40, I was praying for 15 cases. There are people who have 70 or 80 cases,” White says. “They don’t tell you that on the news.”
The problem of high caseloads grabbed headlines in March following the OCFS report, which ranked Monroe County 54th out of 64 counties in overdue investigations. It’s a vicious circle, workers explain. High caseloads have driven many caseworkers to quit, White and others say. The agency has in turn had trouble recruiting caseworkers to cover the extra cases. Workers say this due in large part to a comparatively low starting pay combined with the impossibly arduous and emotionally taxing nature of the job.
Child welfare workers consider themselves first line responders, investigating allegations of abuse or neglect within 24 hours of a report. They are responsible for interviewing children before they’ve been coached, assessing situations, going through sometimes boxes of case history, developing a plan for families that will help keep them out of court, such as coordinating the services necessary to help families overcome the conditions that lead to the report. Those services can include drug rehabilitation, child care, help and support in cases of domestic violence and mental health or chronic pain issues. If children are found to be in imminent danger, they gather the necessary evidence and information to present to a judge in order to remove children from their home. They are responsible for connecting with foster parents and members of extended families to help children in need.
“There are multi-faceted issues in these families, and people think there is a one-dimensional solution, which is CPS,” White says.
Every child in the household has to be interviewed and every parent. “If a woman has five children, there may be four fathers. So, you have to interact with all of the fathers, the mother, all the children: seeing them in school, seeing them in daycare,” the supervisor says. “Children are sometimes with relatives or foster homes; sometimes they’re in treatment. Their home, which is sometimes the scariest when you really have very little control. That’s where the bad press, which no one has really spoken out about. We can’t just go in and snatch children. We can’t just remove children because of allegations. Everything has to be proven. Everything must be taken to court. We have to do diligent effort to help families. If we don’t, then we’re not doing our job.”
White says: “When our leadership was on the news saying that the caseloads were not a crisis, I thought, ‘Where have you been?’ Not everyone has 70 cases, but even 20 is too much! When the state says no more than 15 cases per caseworker, that’s because they realize that once you get 15, you’re really struck there. You can manage when you are at 10 or 12, but more than 15 is not manageable especially with all we have to do now.”
Higher cases lead to poorer job performance, which is evident to Ann Lenane, MD, the medical director of the REACH program (Referral and Evaluation of Abused Children) at Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong. The REACH program is also located at Bivona Child Advocacy Center, where CPS, social workers, law enforcement, prosecutors, medical staff, and therapists meet with abused and neglected children whose families will be facing trial. Lenane works with caseworkers daily.
The REACH program provides medical evaluations when there are concerns about child physical or sexual abuse. The team has been working with caseworkers from Child Protective Services since 2004. “When our team began, those caseworkers were considered the ‘Dream Team’ as they partnered with law enforcement in the investigation of cases of sexual abuse, serious physical abuse, and child fatalities,” Lenane says.
But as the influx of case reports grew in more recent years, the resources for dealing with at risk families dwindled, and the problems grew. Lenane says she has worked with caseworkers juggling more than 50 cases.
“I have seen their caseloads grow to the point that the ‘Dream Team’ that once had a waiting list of caseworkers eager to join, now has a high turnover rate and difficulty filling vacancies.”
In addition to more requirements and increased paperwork, CPS workers say there are more reports of abuse and neglect being filed, but, they explain, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is more abuse and neglect occurring.
The CPS supervisor, who unlike White, deals only with substantiated abuse cases where caseworkers’ investigations support claims of neglect or abuse. Commissioner of Human Services for Monroe County Corinda Crossdale says approximately 75 percent of reports made to CPS are unsubstantiated. (In 2016, Crossdale says Monroe County CPS received 9,768 reports from the state central registry.)
The substantiated cases teams like hers handle are usually considered neglect or maltreatment and not physical injury or sexual abuse, the supervisor explains. For her part, she is working on 12 cases of legitimate abuse that she is preparing for trial. In her opinion, there is not an increase in mistreatment, but there has been an increase in illegitimate reports.
That problem, the supervisor says, is what the caseworkers are stuck with: a higher number of bogus reports that used to get skillfully filtered through their local child abuse hotline. Locally, hotline operators would not generate a full report for those calls that seemed frivolous.
“(Locally,) we got more information. We were able to divert a lot of calls that didn’t have a lot of substance,” the supervisor says. “I’m not saying we didn’t take legitimate calls, but if an anonymous person called and said something random, if they didn’t have names, addresses. If they couldn’t say how they knew the information, we had expert staff on the hotline who, as they were talking to the person, they could pull information up on the computer and ask the right questions and weed out a lot of that junk.” They could also consolidate two reports coming in on the same child, instead of generating two separate cases.
At the state hotline, there is no screening, which had a major impact on Monroe County CPS, explains John Rabish, a caseworker of 27 years, who now serves as spokesperson for the Monroe County Federation of Social Workers—a public-sector social worker union.
Since using the state hotline, Crossdale says the number of reports have increased by more than 2,100 between 2014—before the county dismantled the local hotline—and 2016, after it started using the state hotline.
Yet, Rabish says, there was no increase in staff prior to this shift to prepare for the increase in cases, which has forced CPS to play catch up ever since. To caseworkers, it is this unpreparedness and the failure to make steady pay increases over the course of years that have left the organization perpetually understaffed, he adds.
Caseworkers are scrambling to close cases as new ones continue flooding in. And every one has to be investigated to an equal extent. No matter how redundant or silly they may seem.
There are always the cases of vengeful neighbors, exes, and others filing unfounded reports, but there are also well-intentioned people—school teachers, nurses, principals, caregivers, who are mandated to call CPS if they suspect a problem. Out of that duty, they often overreact.
“People call CPS, and it’s very different depending on what part of the city you’re in what you’ll get reports about. I hate to say it. I can sometimes look at the report and know what area or who made the report based on the allegations,” White says. People have different standards of parenting, and that in no small part affects CPS, she says.
“I can read an allegation and know whether it came from, for example, Fairport High School vs. #44 School in the City based off what they’re calling in,” White says. “A suburban school will call in and say, ‘David came to school today, and his coat was dirty for the fourth day in a row. Mom has been made aware, and his clothes are still not clean.’”
Schools, day care centers, social workers, and others need better education about what warrants a report, White and other caseworkers say. The community needs to take some responsibility instead of immediately resorting to CPS, she says.
“OK, so you’re calling in a report because the family doesn’t have a washer or dryer? Because they’re poor? Not because he’s been mistreated. So why not help them and wash the child’s clothes? Be a social worker because that’s who called in the report—a social worker,” White says. “Compare that to a city school, where I’ll get a report saying, ‘He’s come in; he’s hungry, and his clothes have never been clean all year.’ Or there is something going on in the house. If they’re calling in from the city, it’s going to be a lot more serious because they are more equipped to handle the little things. Their calls are going to be about kids who clearly aren’t cared for.”
Anyone can get reported to CPS, White emphasizes. Top executives to low-end blue collar workers get CPS reports filed against them. “People think CPS is for ‘those people.’ It’s for everyone. Everyone gets called. Anyone can say that you’re not taking care of your kid to their standard,” White says.
“We always say, if they could just rub a couple brain cells together (before calling in a report). That’s literally how we feel when we are so overwhelmed. Four years (for me) feels like 20 at CPS,” White says.
local vs. state hotline
Deb Rosen, executive director at Bivona Child Advocacy Center, says moving to a state-run hotline was intended to cast a wider safety net to catch abuse—to catch whatever incidents reports that might have fallen through the cracks of the local center. Many caseworkers believe it was meant to slash costs. Whether or not that is the case, at least a 20 percent increase in reports was anticipated when the transition was being considered, Rosen says.
But, she adds, if there aren’t enough caseworkers to handle the extra cases, the good that may have been gained by moving to a state-run hotline is lost.
“I think the most relevant point is that timely evaluation of child safety can mean the difference between life and death,” Rosen says. “Studies show that children who are referred to child protective services hotlines are extraordinarily vulnerable as a class, and whether legal findings of abuse are made or not, the initial referral to child protective services is in the best interest of children about whom there are safety concerns,” Rosen says. The hotline, however, is but one part of a timely assessment, she explains.
If the higher cases coming in from the state are not in fact catching legitimate cases that otherwise would not have been known, then those issues need to be made know to the state, Rosen says. “If there are concerns that the state-run hotline is not performing well, for instance over-reaching to accept referrals that statute says should be excluded, that ought to be addressed assertively by counties that are impacted,” Rosen says. “Over-reach is a very real concern with civil rights implications as well as impacts on county caseloads.”
Rosen says she and others regularly advocated for what she termed an ‘automatic fill’ of caseworkers to ensure compliance with New York State’s recommended caseload size, which she says is set at 15.
“The (county) administration had reason to believe that referrals would increase significantly; the differential between the state’s and county’s acceptance of referrals had long been noted as being in the range of 20 percent or so. I certainly never encountered anyone who disagreed that this was the likely scenario,” Rosen says. Proactive hiring and adjustments to team structure were supposed to be performed in order to accommodate the increase. “I believe the county is now taking similar measures to address vacancy rate and caseload size concerns,” she adds.
Indeed, the county legislature last year did approve new hirings for CPS to accommodate the higher rate of reports. The problem is filling the vacancies as new ones are made every week by caseworkers who, out of frustration and exhaustion, are leaving the job.
“They give us contracts where there is a minimal cost of living raise, but they increase our health insurance”
Crossdale says CPS currently has 25 vacancies, including caseworker, administrative and support positions. (Total, the Child and Family Services Division of Monroe County employs 329.) Now, the organization, she says, is evaluating best practices from across the state and country to attract and keep workers. CPS hired a staff development coordinator and is working with an advertising agency to develop a recruitment program, Crossdale adds.
“In addition to our development of strategic partnerships, the county has authorized three classes of new caseworkers each year for the past two years, even going to the extent to hire more caseworkers than existing vacancies,” Crossdale says. “Building on our efforts to recruit new caseworkers, recently the county changed the caseworker position to ‘continuous recruitment,’ which means the civil service test will be given each month.”
The county also authorized the hiring of per diem caseworkers to use their skills to come alongside full-time caseworkers to help them close existing cases, she adds.
Crossdale says there have been other improvements meant to facilitate work at CPS, including the use of smart phones and tablets to help workers make better use of their time. “We’ve also partnered with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office to improve safety for caseworkers in the field,” Crossdale says. “Additionally, we have refocused our efforts on the prevention of secondary traumatic stress among child welfare staff.”
While the county has stepped up its recruiting efforts, high training requirements, which Rabish says are necessary, add to the difficulty in hiring new caseworkers. To be a caseworker, a four-year degree plus a year of paid experience are required. And that’s just to qualify to take the civil service exam, Rabish says.
“A good example of how difficult the situation is is in the fall of 2016 the Legislature approved 28 new positions for Child Protective Services. They can only find 21 people to take those 28 jobs, and within the first few weeks of that training class, three of the people dropped out. So they had 18 people to fill 28 vacancies,” Rabish says.
It’s a catch-22: CPS cannot attract workers without improving working conditions, and the working conditions cannot be improved until CPS gets more workers.
Caseworkers, supervisors, pediatricians, and others have protested and, in June, shared their story before the Monroe County Legislature, asking for better planning, resources, and pay increases at CPS to attract and maintain more caseworkers and thereby lower caseloads.
low pay and poor working conditions
Monroe County’s starting pay is among the lowest in the state at $34,600 a year compared to $46,000 in nearby Ontario County, where the caseloads are lighter. In Onondaga County, the starting pay is $53,000.
The reason for the comparatively low pay in Monroe County, Rabish says, has to do with a seven-year period where there was no general increase in base salary. Over those years, CPS fell behind the curve in terms of not only other counties, but state jobs, private-sector jobs, and other professions, Rabish says.
“Then they give us contracts where there is a minimal cost of living raise, but they increase our health insurance, so it negates whatever increase we’re getting because we’re paying more health insurance,” the supervisor says. “We are first responders. We work for the government. We’re working in child welfare. This job is important, and it should be recognized as such. We shouldn’t be the bottom of the bucket. It’s hard for people to stay and survive. Everyone here has families; they’re putting kids through college. College tuition is going up. Everything is going up, and our pay stays the same,” the supervisor says.
Caseworkers are frustrated that the importance of their job isn’t reflected in the resources they’re given to do it, such as going out with partner caseworkers on dangerous domestic violence cases. “We get the generic response: ‘There’s nothing we can do,’ but then you hear about money being deployed elsewhere, and it makes people angry,” the supervisor says. “I think there is the money, and if there isn’t, they need to find the money! This isn’t something that isn’t going to go away.”
Lenane at the Bivona Center says: “As dedicated as caseworkers may be to the mission of keeping children safe, these working conditions have led many of the most experienced and dedicated caseworkers to move on to less stressful, more lucrative jobs. This leaves their colleagues with bigger caseloads and more stress as they try to fill the gaps left between the time a caseworker leaves and when the position can be filled.
In addition to all of the daily pressures of investigating families, White says the CPS office building at 691 St. Paul Street was flooded when she left. The ceiling was leaking, the carpets soaked. White showed POST photos and videos she had taken of garbage-bag-lined ceilings, fallen tiles, buckets, and wet vacs strewn on the floor.
“Our building was falling down around us. It was literally raining in my cubicle,” White says.
In 2015, White was out of work for three and a half months for mental health issues. “There are people on antidepressants there now. People have a lot of weight gain from stress eating. We figure out how to cope, and a lot of people do it in unhealthy ways,” White says. “We’re trying to avoid catastrophe every day with every family we encounter.” White says she prayed for the families she worked with on weekends when she wasn’t at work.
Her greatest anxiety used to come from those families that were on the edge, she says. CPS rates safety one through five, White explains. Two indicates there are enough safety concerns to warrant making a safety plan with the family. Three indicates there is cause for concern, and four means the children should be removed from the home.
“It’s those families that are at a two, and I don’t know how quickly it can become a three, that worried me the most,” White remembers.
Despite all of the obstacles, the supervisor says the teams at CPS do still manage to help families. “We save lives all the time, but it takes a huge toll (personally),” the supervisor says. Staffers suffer from vicarious trauma, which worsens when they aren’t able to unplug from the job. “Now that we have work cell phones, you are texting clients. They have your number. They are calling and texting you 24 hours a day,” she says.
It takes a special kind of person to do this job, the supervisor says. She compares it to working in an emergency room. If caseworkers can adapt to the harshness of the job, they can do anything, she says. CPS workers often call themselves crisis junkies, she adds.
But even for those caseworkers with a natural aptitude for the chaos of the job, the trauma they witness still permeates their personal lives, including what should be the most treasured, joyous moments. “I remember I became a case worker when I was in my twenties, and then I got married and had a baby,” the supervisor recalls. “I remember holding my infant in my arms and getting flashbacks of infant abuse cases, thinking, ‘How could anyone hit a baby?’”
It’s impossible to imagine the frantic desperation John Geer felt last year trying to save his granddaughter from the abuse he knew was happening at her father’s house. When she died from internal injuries last November, Brook Stagles was one of the hundreds of open cases at Monroe County Child Protective Services, where Geer believes caseworkers and managers were too overwhelmed to save her.
At the time though, he and his daughter, Brook’s mother, had put their faith in the CPS process. Legally, they had no choice, he says. Every time they called police on Brook’s behalf, the Geers were told to call their CPS caseworker.
In his urgency, Geer considered running away with Brook.
“But if I had taken her, I would have faced felony charges. You’re always torn. You don’t know what to do,” Geer remembers. The only person he could appeal to was Brook’s caseworker. Fairly or not, it was on her, he says, that all of his hope—and Brook’s life—hinged.
Brook’s father Michael Stagles and his girlfriend Erica Bell have since been charged with homicide and are awaiting trial in Brook’s beating death. Geer says there were multiple reports to CPS from multiple sources pertaining to the girlfriend, but Geer insists CPS had never toured the father’s home or interviewed his girlfriend by the time of Brook’s death months later. These details cannot be confirmed by CPS due to an ongoing investigation into how the case was handled. However, White, who worked alongside Brook’s caseworker, says the paperwork on Brook was up to date.
“We knew the caseworker didn’t do anything wrong. We knew she had done her job,” White says. “Fortunately for that caseworker, her notes were up to date. For so many of us that would not have been the case—myself included. There would have been no way for me to show the state I did my job and did the assessment. They would never have known that because so many of us struggle to get things in on time.
“We were praising God that she had managed to get those notes in because at least no one could say she didn’t do what she said she did," White says.
Geer strongly disagrees, but acknowledges the circumstances at CPS make it hard for caseworkers to do their job properly. To that end, Monroe County Legislator Justin Wilcox, a Democrat representing Brighton, is proposing a law in Brook’s name that would limit to 15 the number of cases assigned to any one worker.
“Given that Brook's death was not the first murder of a child to occur with a CPS-related case, one of our top priorities should be to identify systemic issues and other deficiencies so that we can protect the most vulnerable children in our community,” Wilcox says. “We have been put on notice by the state, as well as by children’s advocates, that the excessive caseloads place these children at increased risk of abuse or death.”
Wilcox also is asking for a comprehensive review of CPS worker compensation, benefits, and working conditions.
“Low pay, rising child abuse reports, and poorly planned hiring practices by the human resources department have all directly contributed to this crisis (at CPS),” Wilcox says. “As long as the number of reports of abuse remain high, the only way to resolve the issue is to hire more staff. The recruitment and retention issues that now plague CPS are the result of years of mismanagement and neglect, and the county’s meager recruitment efforts are not proportional to the magnitude of the crisis.”
He says the problem cannot be solved simply by authorizing more new hires as the legislature already has done. It’s not solving the deeper problems there, he explains. “Social work students have stated in front of the Monroe County Legislature that they will not work for Monroe County when they graduate because of the low salary, high caseloads and low morale,” Wilcox adds.
Wilcox introduced the Brook Stagles Protective Services Staffing Act informally in the spring. He circulated the legislation among his colleagues to get their feedback and find out their positions on it. All of the Democrats signed on, he says, but so far, no Republicans have. In a highly partisan county legislature, Wilcox says it now seems unlikely they will. “While I could formally introduce it, without a single Republican supporting the bill, the bill cannot advance through the legislative process.”
In addition to the Democrats who support it, the proposed legislation would need at least five Republicans in order to advance. POST contacted two of them—John Howland, representing the 13th District (Henrietta and Pittsford), and Fred Ancello, representing the 6th District (Greece), to find out why they don’t support a legislation that, on a moral and political level, would seem like a no-brainer. Wilcox says he doesn’t know their reasons for not supporting it, and POST couldn’t get a direct answer.
Howland and Ancello did not return calls for comment, but Monroe County Legislature Majority Leader Brian Marianetti did send POST a statement.
"The safety of children in this community continues to be a priority for the Republican Caucus. We continue to support the immediate actions of the County Administration to recruit, train and over-hire CPS caseworkers as they have since 2016. The Republican Caucus proudly voted to allocate funding of all CPS positions in the 2017 County Budget and we continue to look forward to seeing the results of these efforts."
Marianetti did not say whether or not the Republicans would support the Brook Stagles Act when it is formally introduced.
Since the death of his granddaughter, Geer has made reforming CPS his passion and life purpose. It hasn’t helped heal him though. He says, he, his daughter, and the rest of his family will never be the same.
“I don’t believe in much anymore. I just hope that what happened to Brook can change the situation at CPS,” he says.
To that end, Geer, owner of Top to Bottom Home Improvements LLC in Irondequoit, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on billboard and print advertising locally and nationally, urging people not to let children like Brook die from abuse. He has a website dedicated to the cause, trumpforchildren.com, where he has an open letter to the president imploring him to address the problems at child welfare services nationwide.
Geer says the appeal to Trump has been largely misunderstood. Because the ads refer to the man doesn’t mean Geer is a supporter, he says. He focused his message on Trump because of the politics behind the problem at CPS. “When I originally started this, people were confused,” Geer says. “I had no one to turn to, so I looked to the person who said he wanted to drain the swamp.” There have been 115 deaths that were part of ongoing CPS investigations in the U.S., Geer says, and a total of five in Monroe County since the 1980s. If, through his ads, he says, he can save a life, then they’re worth it.