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June 2014 Column - Has CPS been ignoring issue of excessive caseloads?


OFFICE HIGHLIGHTS

Erie County Legislator Ted Morton and students at Our Lady of Blessed Sacrament School created cards on Feb. 8 for his 3rd annual Valentines for Veterans program. The cards will be delivered to the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station before the holiday to thank those serving for their commitment and sacrifice. 

We have heard a lot recently about the ongoing heroin epidemic that is plaguing our area. Many of us know of someone right here in our community who is suffering from this epidemic which has impacted people regardless of socio-economic status. This is an issue I take very personally. When I was in high school, my older brother died of a drug overdose. At 19 years old, he was robbed of his future, my mother faced the terrible pain of losing a child, and I was robbed of my older brother. That moment changed my life and has left a deep lasting scar.

Erie County Legislator Ted Morton joined representatives from UFC at a press conference today at Pursue Martial Arts in Clarence to support efforts to legalize Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in New York State, which is the only state where the sport is illegal at the professional level. The press conference was part of a four-city tour in support of legislation currently before the NYS Assembly and Senate.  


I’m excited to begin a new year and term to build upon the work that the Legislature started the past two years. 2016 brings new opportunities to improve and challenges to tackle.

Erie County Legislator Ted Morton was officially sworn-in for his second term during the annual reorganizational meeting of the Legislature held Jan. 7, 2016 in Old County Hall. A resident of Cheektowaga, Legislator Morton won re-election this past November.

Why did it take so long? That was the main question I felt was surrounding the recent Legislature hearing with the Department of Social Services commissioner, who also oversees the county’s Child Protective Services division. The issues within CPS have not been properly responded to in the past, and with the timing of the new staffing plan, I question why the department has been so slow to respond.

After so many tragedies, failures within DSS and loss of innocent, young lives, and failed attempts by the department to handle its caseload, a hearing was held by the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee to directly ask the commissioner questions, get answers and start the process of finding a solution. That hearing brought to light a lot of concerns with the operation of this critical department.

Just months before I was elected, the Legislature was presented a plan in fall of 2013 to add seven caseworkers and three upper management positions. At the time, legislators were told that those additional caseworkers were enough to help solve the caseloads. The commissioner even stated those few new caseworkers would fill the need within the department. She’s quoted as saying, “This plan will give the Department of Social Services the needed capacity to address the sources of these increases, and will benefit both taxpayers and the families that DSS assists.”

We are learning now that seven caseworkers weren’t even close to the number of workers we need to handle the workload. Buffalo was just ranked the fourth poorest city in the country, and we know with poverty comes increased child abuse and domestic violence. We need caseworkers to help our residents in need.

The administration was told nine months ago by legislators that funding should be spent on more caseworkers, not management. We now know that adding just seven caseworkers was a complete underestimate. The department has readjusted its plan and is asking for 24 caseworkers and 12 part-time employees.

New York State’s maximum recommended case levels is 15 per worker. In Erie County, the commissioner has testified that the average is 50 cases, with some workers seeing upwards of 100. I was shocked when I heard the commissioner confess this. Why did it take so long if the department was so significantly above state maximum level? This is a serious matter.

What disappoints me the most is that until the commissioner’s resignation was called for, we didn’t see any proposals for additional workers. What is going on in that department?

Following the hearing, I am not in support of Carol Dankert-Maurer remaining as the commissioner. She has had five years to bring changes to the department, and she has failed to do so.

 

I believe the report presented and request for new caseworkers warrants a complete discussion and review as the Legislature is willing to assist the county’s employees with their mission to serve the residents in need.

We need to make sure that the steps we are taking are appropriate and will provide the best results.