Impacts of NYS OCFS Audit, Rise in Caseloads Spur Need for Enhanced Workforce
ERIE COUNTY, NY— Today, Erie County Commissioner of Social Services Carol Danket-Maurer was joined by Deputy Erie County Executive Richard Tobe in presenting a report to the Erie County legislature on the status of Erie County’s Child Protective Services (“CPS”) unit. The report included an overview of the recently-reorganized Department of Social Services and requested the creation of three new CPS teams along with the creation of twelve newly-established CPS Investigator positions which will be filled by former police officers. Erie County currently receives approximately 1,000 Statewide Central Register for Child Abuse and Maltreatment (“SCR”) reports each month. This additional staff will allow the county to achieve the state-recommended goal of fifteen cases per worker.
“While there were many positive indicators that came out of the OCFS audit, there were also additional effects that have created logjams and case backlogs that are unsustainable but still growing. CPS is performing more thorough investigations, but many of these cases are now staying open longer. This causes the number of cases assigned to each worker to increase,” said Commissioner Dankert-Maurer. “When investigations stay open for longer periods, caseloads will inevitably creep up and backlogs grow. Workers become stressed, and their time and attention is spread thin. It also negatively impacts families as their case remains open.”
The staffing initiative calls for the creation of three new child-protective teams, with a total of eighteen child protective workers, three child protective team leaders, three social services team workers, and one child protective coordinator being added. In addition, twelve Special Investigator positions would be filled with individuals with a law enforcement background holding part-time positions and working on high-risk cases. The addition of eighteen child protective workers would result in 151 front-line workers in the unit; assuming that twelve percent of workers are not have cases at any one time (due to turnover, training, or medical leave), there would be 133 front-line workers accepting cases, which would keep caseloads on average at 15 per caseworker.
Dankert-Maurer continued, “These teams will fit into the CPS unit structure and will provide needed resiliency and vigor as we address increased caseloads in the most efficient way possible. One of these teams will investigate cases involving special populations where a unique skill set is necessary, such as domestic violence or mental illness. Another will investigate cases with high-risk young children where other risk factors have been identified. The third will investigate cases with serious injury or sexual abuse. The need is there and growing; already in 2014 CPS has investigated 1,212 cases involving allegations of physical abuse and 1,072 cases involving allegations of drug and alcohol abuse.”
The total 2014 cost of the plan is $1.15 million, with the local share amounting to $523,000. The legislature’s approval is needed for the hiring of the new personnel.
In addition to seeking an expanded workforce, Erie County has taken numerous other steps to reform the statewide CPS system, reduce the backlog in cases, foster collaborative approaches, and reallocate existing resources more efficiently. For example, the Poloncarz administration recently proposed 19 pieces of legislation aimed at modernizing and strengthening the statewide CPS system, proposals which have received positive attention from legislators at the state level. Further work is also being accomplished in assembling the Initiatives for a Stronger Community, the administration’s Health & Human Services Plan that works with community partners in addressing poverty and other societal problems. Supervisors are performing more direct work in the department, such as home visits, and an Intake Team of supervisors and senior management was created to allow CPS investigators more time to close existing cases. Furthermore, the Erie County Community Coordinating Council on Children & Families is being re-established with the help of the Casey Family Programs; work is ongoing with BOCES to improve coordination between local schools and CPS; and a potential expansion of SAY YES site facilitators to 14 additional schools is being explored.
In addition, unique collaborations have been put in place with the Erie County Sheriff and the Erie County department of probation to provide immediate assistance to the Child Protective Services unit.