The Erie County Legislature has approved a restructuring plan that allows the Department of Social Services to hire 37 additional employees for the Child Protective Services (CPS) division, and added an amendment that increases oversight requirements from the department to ensure improvements are being made.
The Majority Caucus presented the amendment when it reconvened session on June 19 to increase reporting requirements. Despite a steady increase from August 2013 to the present, the Poloncarz Administration did not adequately request caseworkers to address the issue during that time. It wasn’t until Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo called for Commissioner Carol Dankert-Maurer’s resignation on May 30 that a plan was submitted days later.
The Poloncarz Administration’s restructuring plan was released on June 3 during a Health and Human Services Committee Meeting to discuss issues within CPS. During the hearing, Deputy County Executive Richard Tobe stated the administration hadn’t planned to request for additional caseworkers until mid-June. Members of the Legislature Majority Caucus questioned the timing of the request and Tobe’s statement, saying DSS had done nothing prior to address the department’s failures and tragic deaths of young children.
“The need for additional caseworkers was never questioned by the Legislature. Members of the current Majority Caucus advocated and asked for more caseworkers in September 2013, but were told those positions were not necessary by the administration and Commissioner Dankert-Maurer. My colleagues and I agree that we need more boots on the ground to adequately investigate each case and to protect possible victims. However, the issue is how the commissioner and managers are assisting caseworkers to ensure they have the necessary tools to help our most vulnerable residents,” said Majority Leader Joe Lorigo. “In September, 2013, we heard from the department that seven caseworkers would address the issues and that three additional, qualified managers would be hired to get CPS on the right track. Since that time, we have seen additional tragedy. The Legislature has a responsibility to question this plan, the commissioner and CPS managers. This plan alone will not solve the greater problems in the department, but it is a step in the right direction.”
The Health and Human Services Committee will hold meetings to review the monitoring reports from the department and examine total caseloads and the average number of caseloads per employee. The commissioner has stated that Erie County averages 50-100 cases per caseworkers, which is far above the New York State recommendation of 15 cases per caseworker. The Legislature will request updates to ensure that Erie County is reducing its employee: case ratio.
“I have been contacted by a number of current caseworkers in CPS over the past few weeks. I was told that for years they have told supervisors that they are overwhelmed with cases. This isn’t a recent trend and it should have been addressed earlier. I don’t think we have the needed leadership currently in Social Services to address the many issues we face and this is why questions need to be asked. I am disappointed that the Poloncarz administration is not willing to hold leadership accountable at this time, with that being said, I hope this plan helps solve the immediate problem of caseloads. But long-term, we need to address the problems of the department as a whole, and we need to support these ground level workers every step of the way,” said Chairman John Mills.
“We need to know that the caseworkers are getting the training and support they need to best do their job. It is to be expected that the commissioner would have a strategic approach to prepare caseworkers for the field and to ensure these employees are protecting children. We can’t just throw money at the problem and expect all these issues to be resolved, there has to be a plan from the leadership in Social Services,” said Legislator Ted Morton.